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Theology of Mark: The Dynamic between Christology and Authentic Discipleship (Explorations in Biblical Theology)I first heard of A Theology of Mark: The Dynamic between Christology and Authentic Discipleship by Hans Bayer in a Facebook thread. It sounded intersting as the comments described a theology of discipleship rooted in the identity of Jesus. I had been thinking about discipleship recently in terms of our congregation. Not many people seemed to be moving toward greater maturity in Christ (which is a very subjective thing to look for in others, I know). I decided to preach a sermon series on Mark focusing on following Jesus. To prepare for this series I bought the book and slowly made my way through it.

This book is part of the Explorations in Biblical Theology series edited by Robert Peterson. Both men teach at Covenant Theological Seminary, the PCA’s seminary. Bayer is chair of the NT department. I’m not familiar with his work.

Based on the thread I had fairly high expectations. Those were not quite met. Perhaps I was looking for something different than what his goal was.

The first major section deals with Mark as Biography and the Message of God’s Eternal Rule. In that section he deals with Mark’s genre, structure, purpose and framework. As that title of the section notes, he approaches it a biography and therefore rooted in history. He’s not denying it is a gospel account, but focused on its historical character (as opposed to myth). He also brings in its transmission as a memorized account of a witness. Rabbi’s disciples didn’t generally have libraries, they memorized the Scripture and just about everything else.

“… Mark functions within Greco-Roman and Jewish conventions of his time which intend to give reliable biographical data while not giving an exhaustive life story.”

Mark is mostly narrative which focuses on the acts of Jesus more than the discourses we find in the other gospel accounts. In this way Mark invites the reader to participate in what happens, and then challenges him with the implications.

The two main flows of thought/action are the relationships between Jesus and His disciples and then Jesus and His opponents. We see demonstrations of Jesus’ authority followed by calls to follow Him.

Bayer identified the main thematic framework as the in-breaking of God’s eternal rule. In keeping with Calvin’s observation at the beginning of the Institutes, this causes us to examine who God is and who we are. These are the two questions Bayer returns to throughout the course of the book. This is what I was interested in. I just thought it would be developed differently- don’t ask me how.

“Human independence and God’s sovereign rule cannot, in the end, coexist. One of these forces has to yield. Jesus’ call to repent and surrender is thus to be seen in the advancing messianic kingdom of God.”

The second section of the book develops the dynamic between God’s Messiah and authentic disciples. He addresses what discipleship is and what it looks like.

Bayer argues that God confronts our self-determination rather than just calling us to doing “Christian things”. He is resisting moralism at this point. Christ is offering “radical, sustained inner change.” There is a shift in identity that needs to take place, something that is at the crux of some of the current controversies today. We need to see Jesus as Messiah for who He is (His nature, authority etc.) to challenge our view of ourselves as autonomous or self-determining. The disciple is a saved sinner, not an exalted good guy. We are not perfected at conversion, or most of Paul’s letters would make no sense.

Adam’s sin brought about alienation from God, self and creation. Jesus comes to restore a proper relationship to God, self and creation. Bayer brings this reality up often. Ours is a fundamental brokenness that Christ has come to heal. This is not in the place of reconciliation and redemption from sin, but complements reconciliation and redemption. It is a more holistic approach to both sin and salvation. In light of this, Bayer identifies Jesus’ core characteristics and argues they are what Jesus is doing to reproduce in His disciples. He mentions the ordinary means of grace, particularly Scripture, used by the Spirit to transform us. He also notes that these attitudes and behaviors are “before God, toward ourselves, and others” which reminds me to Relational Wisdom 360‘s “SOG” (self-awareness, other-awareness & God-awareness). He has a chart showing how these core characteristics of discipleship are revealed in Messiah, the Twelve and all disciples.

Discipleship “involves cutting all ties and dependencies (including¬† idols and addictions) that inhibit our full availability to Christ and thus obedience to God’s will.”

Bayer brings us from the double crisis to the tri-fold resolution that produces the 8 core characteristics. Discipleship is not an individual affair. In addition to the vertical dimension with Jesus, there is a horizontal dimension. Jesus doesn’t train one discipleship alone, but in groups. And they “live” in groups. Discipleship is reciprocal. Jesus disciples us as we disciple one another. All of us are still growing and confronted by Jesus.

Bayer then brings this into the 21st century. He addresses contemporary spirituality and how it compares to the call to discipleship in Mark’s gospel. He helps us to make the epochal adjustment from Mark to the audience we are addressing. At times it seems a bit abstract, and at others he returns to the double crisis and the 8 core characteristic traits. As part of this he discusses self-denial, interacting with Bonhoeffer in particular (including an appendix on the subject). Self-denial is not about hating yourself or abasing yourself. It is a rejection of self-determination and control over our lives. It is about living in submission to Jesus instead of our wants and desires.

This volume is not very long. It is not exhaustive in its approach to Mark, meaning it is not intended to be an exegetical volume or commentary on Mark. He wants to help you see the big picture of Mark to help you make sense of Mark’s gospel so you can teach it more effectively. For that it is a helpful volume.

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Considering Candor


The internet is filled with arguing, debate and “discussion”. Whether on Twitter, in a Facebook group or the comments on a blog piece or article, there you find it and it often degenerates into a dumpster fire.

I can often be discouraged by that, particularly when it occurs among pastors and elders. I expect worldly people to act like a dumpster fire. I understand that as a sinner, I am seconds away from starting dumpster fires. But I also grasp something of the grace of God, the love for the saints and other safety nets to keep me from stumbling and hopefully not put a stumbling block before others. It is a process, and part of my sanctification (becoming more like Jesus).

In one of his letters (Works, Vol. 1 pp. 252-257), John Newton discusses candor (or candour for the Brits) in a way that I thought helpful in processing some of the debates I have been a part of in the last year or so.

Candor- noun

  1. the state or quality of being frank, open, and sincere in speech or expression; candidness: The candor of the speech impressed the audience.
  2. freedom from bias; fairness; impartiality: to consider an issue with candor. (Dictionary.com)
He recognizes both true and counterfeit candor or open, sincere speech. He asserts that “true candor is a Christian grace, and will grow in no soul but a believing heart.” As a grace, it is a fruit of the Spirit, not our own effort though we are also responsible to seek such candor. If you are a Christian, especially an elder or pastor, you should be marked by increasing candor.
I see some claiming candor, though they don’t use the word, though they don’t seem to know what it means. I’ll get back to this later.
This true candor which is a Christian grace is like this:
“It forms the most favorable judgment of persons and characters, and puts the kindest construction upon the conduct of others that it possibly can, consistent with a love of the truth. It makes due allowances for the infirmities of human nature, will not listen with pleasure to what is said to the disadvantage of any, nor repeat it without a justifiable cause.”
This gives me some hope as I’ve seen signs of growth in me. Newton sounds like he’s talking about charity or love. He’s not. He’s talking about speaking the truth in love rather than divorced from love. “Open rebuke” is often claimed to say the most unloving things to others.
Why do I, as I have been accused by others, “make excuses” for others? I try to form the most favorable judgment of them, unless they prove otherwise (by repeatedly berating or accusing others, as an example). Love should move us to see the best, not the worst, in our brothers. This is most important when information is lacking, when we don’t have the whole picture. What do you fill that in with- the worst you could imagine your brother doing, or the best? Are we being charitable or giving way to the inner Pharisee who loves to condemn all who dare differ from us?
This is to be consistent with a love of the truth. We don’t sweep facts under the rug. It is about seeing facts in context, and allowing the person to speak for themselves. Newton is not wanting us to avoid accusation of sin, but to be clear that what we are calling sin is actually sin, and they are actually committing it.
We also make proper allowances for human frailty. We don’t expect people to be perfect, nor express everything perfectly. I sometimes get frustrated with CavWife because she doesn’t express things the way I would, and then I misunderstand her. We talk about that, about how we can communicate more clearly. But I don’t accuse her of being a liar! (Or a liberal/progressive/fundamentalist/Pharisee, poopy head, idiot, jerk etc.)That starts a dumpster fire.
Recently we had one of these discussions, and a child asked if we were getting a divorce (likely because some extended family is, not because this is an everyday event). My reply was that this was so we didn’t divorce, but talked through our issues. And we do it without name-calling. But I digress.
To use today’s jargon, this is a gospel-driven (or centered) candor. Newton wants to derive such candor from the gospel. He recognizes the power of sin even in the best of us.
“There is an unhappy propensity, even in good men, to a selfish, narrow, censorious turn of mind; and the best are more under the power of prejudice than they are aware.”
Yes, even the best of us have prejudices or blind spots. We will deny it, but sometimes the charge is true. Some men get particularly exercised over certain subjects. So exercised that they are unreasonable and express themselves with great flair, as one friend noted recently.
Newton continues to describe what this gospel-centered candor looks like.
“A truly candid person will acknowledge what is right and excellent in those from whom he may be obliged to differ: he will not charge the faults or extravagances of a few upon a whole party or denomination: if he thinks it is his duty to point out or refute the errors of any persons, he will not impute to them such consequences of their tenets as they expressly disavow; he will not willfully misrepresent or aggravate their mistakes, or make them offenders for a word: he will keep in view the distinction between those things which are fundamental and essential to the Christian life, and those concerning which a difference of sentiment may and often has obtained among true believers.”
In controversy, we often ignore the common ground. Perhaps we assume it, but based on the accusations I often see flying about we aren’t. We are ignoring the common ground and focusing on the points of supposed disagreement as though that was all that mattered. Then we begin to accuse people of ideas and actions they haven’t thought or committed.
Too often the actions of a few are imputed to the “whole”. For example, a conference like Revoice means that the PCA is turning into the PC(USA), a group of compromising people one step away from liberalism. That’s the stuff I push back against but, frankly, it isn’t true.
True candor doesn’t put words in other people’s mouth, and it accepts what people say. The issue of identity was huge in the Revoice dumpster fire. I found a stubborn refusal by many to accept what they meant by key phrases on the controversy, and a stubborn demand that others use “my terminology”. Candor can say, “not the way I’d put it, but I can understand what you are trying to say.” It doesn’t burn down the house over a word or phrase someone knowingly uses differently.
True candor also recognizes that good Christians disagree on things not essential to the Christian life. Scripture is not equally clear on all issues. There are some disagreements (many?) that don’t strike at the vitals of Christianity. As a result, we shouldn’t draw lines in the sand over them. Acknowledge you disagree, be honest about that, but don’t make the other person into a damnable heretic as a result. They aren’t Servetus just because you disagree with them on a finer, less clear point.
Newton provides us with another remind that should dampen our desire to set the dumpster on fire.
“Let us, my friend, be candid: let us remember who totally ignorant we ourselves once were, how often we have changed sentiments in one particular or other, since we first engaged in the search of truth; how often we have been imposed upon by appearances; ….”
Remember that you grew into your positions, and they may need time to grow into them as well. I don’t get angry because my 8 year-old can’t do algebra yet. While, for instance, all elders have the same office, they don’t have the same maturity and experience. While God may want to use you to help them grow, accusations, name-calling etc. is not how He intends that to happen. Can you imagine how the conversation with Apollos would have gone if Priscilla and Aquila started with “Apollos, you ignorant mimbo…”? A different, better conversation is “I think you are right here, and have some qualms about these things.”
Newton does warn against false candor, which “springs from an indifference to the truth, and is governed by the fear of men and the love of praise.” Make sure there is an indifference to the truth rather than a greater emphasis on one truth than you put. I’ve heard such accusations about the fear of men that wasn’t necessarily true. For instance, when I joined in repenting of our denomination’s past racism, it wasn’t because I was afraid of others or I was virtue signalling. I believed it was the right, biblical way to deal with our history even if I wasn’t a part of it (I’ve only been here 10 years). I chose a path of reconciliation. So, I think candor doesn’t assume motives and accuse but asks about them.
True candor doesn’t divorce itself from truth or minimize truth. It grapples with truth, and sometimes that can be hard to do in our world in light of our human limitations and sinfulness.
“Far be that candor from us which represents the Scripture as a nose of wax, so that a person may reject or elude the testimonies there given to the Deity and atonement of Christ, and the all-powerful agency of the Holy Spirit, with impunity.”
To be Christian candor is to maintain essential Christian doctrines. In the context of the letter, he affirms the gifts of non-Christians in their areas of expertise (doctors, lawyers, engineers etc.) without commending them in theology. So, we see here another boundary placed upon true candor. It recognizes the limitations of others, as well as their strengths.
“Then the strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and believers would receive each other without doubtful disputation.”
There are strong and weak brothers. Mature and immature brothers. The strong and mature should bear with, rather than condemn, the weak and immature. Far too often we doubt another’s relation to Christ because they don’t align with our theology or method of ministry perfectly. We play the role of judge which is reserved for God. I’m not saying you can’t disagree, or express that disagreement and say something is wrong. What I’m saying is that our tendency to declare someone who holds to basic Christian tenets and evidences grace to not be a Christian because we disagree.
True candor doesn’t just happen. Newton ends this letter with this recognition.
“… we ought to cultivate a candid spirit, and learn from the experience of our own weakness, to be gentle and tender to other; avoiding at the same time that indifference and cowardice, which, under the name of candor, countenances error, extenuates sin, and derogates from the authority of Scripture.”
Discernment and candor are not simply about recognizing what is wrong, but also about recognizing what is right. The people we interact with have both right and wrong ideas. I am not 100% right and they 100% wrong. When we act like that, we start dumpster fires and destroy relationships with people who are our brothers. May God help us to learn how to disagree with one another so that we grow together, before it is too late.

Considering Hearing Sermons


I’m reading The Works of John Newton this year. In volume one there are letters on various subjects. One was On Hearing Sermons. I thought there were some aspects of this letter that were particularly pertinent in our day.

Hearing the gospel is no small thing. He notes it is “a great privilege” which “requires grace and wisdom to make a due improvement of it.” It is another way of reminding us that God will expect much where much has been given. The sermons we hear are given to us as gifts and we should be grateful for them, as well as make the best use of them. However, like all blessings there are also snares that present themselves.

Newton notes the differences in preachers:

“Some are more set especially for the establishment and confirmation of the gospel doctrines; others are skillful in solving casuistical points; others are more excellent in enforcing practical godliness; and others again, having been led through depths of temptation and spiritual distress, are best acquainted with the various workings of the heart, and know best how to speak a word in season to weary and exercised souls.”

Image result for preachingA group of pastors may all be “exegetical” and expositional but preach very different sermons based on their particular strengths. We cannot expect all sermons to be all things to all men. Recall the limitations of your pastor (or any pastor) and rejoice in how God has gifted them rather than cursing him for how God has not.

Churches also have different needs in preaching. A pastor whose preaching is well-received at Faith Presbyterian may not find as warm a reception at Trinity Presbyterian. One may like his doctrinally driven sermons while another longs for and needs practical godliness. When looking for a new pastor, this should be at the forefront of a search committee’s thinking. “What are we used to? Do we need something different now? What are this man’s strengths?” A congregation may appreciate the individual sermons of a candidate, but will they appreciate a steady diet of it?

In a similar fashion, when the pastor is on vacation it is a great time to hear someone with a very different style or strength. Do not compare them to your pastor, but appreciate what the person brings to the table. Likewise, don’t move from that to the criticism of your pastor since he’s not this guy you just heard for a week or two. What is a refreshing change of pace may not be a brand new course.

Newton encourages a stated and regular attendance. There may be occasions to attend elsewhere, but something goes amiss when you are looking for reasons. It may be about them, but perhaps you should start with you.

Regular attendance helps the pastor to know you and your circumstances. I know that I try to consider my congregation when planning sermon series, and thinking about illustrations. I chose one recently precisely because of the emotional freight it would have in light of the very emotional nature of the sermon text. I didn’t want an illustration that was remote by time or geography but one that moved them into the experience of the author’s historical situation.

It also encourages the pastor. Pastors understand if you are sick or on vacation. Most of us, particularly those in smaller churches, are discouraged by people who are frequently absent. We’re human too.

Newton addresses those who are “unsettled”, who always seem to be looking for a new church or better preacher. I’ve known some of these folks, and the poor spouses who suffer from the constant change like plants that are regularly uprooted and moved.

“Such unsettled hearers seldom thrive: they usually grow wise in their own conceits, have their heads filled with notions, acquire a dry, critical, and censorious spirit; and are more intent on disputing who is the best preacher, than upon obtaining benefit to themselves from what they hear.”

You can fix your hopes on the man whether that man is your pastor or someone else. We must remember that what matters most is the work of the Spirit with, without, above and in spite of the man in the pulpit. The Lord must bless the sermon. Finding the perfect preacher is not our concern, but often a way to avoid what God is doing through a man.

Newton admits that other opportunities present themselves (besides Sunday morning) to hear another pastor preach. We can partake of these opportunities, and these have multiplied thanks to the internet. But he offers some warnings lest we not make good use of them.

Image result for listening to sermonDo not become a mere hearer, focused on delivery and not content. As a pastor I periodically listen to other pastors. I do want to hear other styles and improve my craft, but I also need to be fed, encouraged or challenged by the sermon. It isn’t simply research but an opportunity for God to deal with me.

Some seem focused on hearing, not applying the message they hear. They become professional or expert hearers of sermons, analyzing the craft or method. They aren’t listening to become shaped by God’s grace.

Similarly, don’t become a mere hearer by listening to too many sermons. The goal is worship and life transformation. When they become background noise and/or too numerous to process we become mere hearers. The blessing of the internet’s cache of sermons by gifted men becomes a curse.

Do not let your itching ears be tickled. Don’t look for novelty or singular opinions. If no one else is talking about the subject or has that interpretation, it isn’t a good sign. The more people who listen to the idiosyncratic preacher the more the poison of error may spread. Sadly, it is easy for people to be wowed by heretics. There is no meat, only bones, but those bones are sure presented well.

Newton continues with addressing those times when you believe that a sermon doesn’t satisfy you. He advises that we not lay all of the blame on the pastor. They are limited in terms of gifting and time to prepare (perhaps it was a week filled with crisis), and their work is difficult. They can be burdened by discouragement (they don’t preach in a vacuum). As a result, Newton is not trying to exempt them from any responsibility, but he does ask them to “consider whether the fault may not possibly be in you.” What are you bringing to the table that day which may make it difficult for you to listen to and benefit from the sermon that has been providentially preached? Do you think too highly of him, and expect too much? “Perhaps you neglected to pray for him; and then, though he might be useful to others, it is not at all strange that he was not so to you.” Don’t assume the problem was with the pastor.

He concludes with the fact that you should test what the pastor says with the Scriptures. It is your duty to follow the example of the Bereans. Most pastors don’t expect blind acceptance and obedience. That would be spiritually unhealthy.

“They would not be lords over your conscience, but helpers of your joy. Prize this gospel liberty, which sets you free from the doctrines and commandments of men; but do not abuse it to the purposes of pride and self.”

Preaching is an odd thing. People can hear the opposite of what we intend. Two people can hear the opposite message. Years ago I preached a sermon that included a rebuke of racism. A visitor “heard” me as though I was a racist and encouraging racism. I don’t know how that happened. I once heard an excellent sermon by Steve Brown at a Ligonier conference focused on the sufficiency of Christ’s work for our salvation and people heard this as antinomianism. Hmm, do you think we can do anything to add to or take away from the cross of Christ for our salvation?! We listen as sinful people in need of grace to rightly apprehend the message of the pastor. Sin affects the delivery and the hearing. What is a means of grace can be twisted by the flesh and the devil to be a curse.

Let us, therefore, be prayerful in attending to preaching. Pray for the pastor as he prepares and for his delivery that his sermon would humble the sinner, exalt the Savior and promote godliness (Charles Simeon’s three guidelines), and that the people would be granted grace to properly understand and love the truth found therein, while recognizing and forgiving the errors (unless they be damnable heresies or consistent errors).


I don’t every year, but last year I read a devotional in addition to my daily reading of Scripture. I can struggle with legalism or formality regarding a devotional. But that’s my problem.

There was a sale on God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life by Timothy and Kathy Keller. The book focuses primarily on the Proverbs, but there are some days with readings from Job or Ecclesiastes.

Writing a book on Proverbs, like preaching on it, is perilous and likely frustrating. After the introduction, the proverbs are not structured. You can’t simply roll thru them sequentially and expect it to make a whole lot of sense. You are essentially forced to handling them thematically. They laid them out this way:

Knowing Wisdom (January 1- February 7)

Knowing God (February 8- March 23)

Knowing the Heart (March 24- June 12): this included topics like reordering our desires, understanding temptation and emotions.

Knowing Others (June 13- August 10): this included topics like friendship, gossip, listening and conflicts.

Knowing the Times and Seasons (August 11- September 3): this covered guidance, planning and decision making.

Knowing the Spheres (September 4- December 14): covering marriage, sex, parenting, work, power and justice.

Knowing Jesus, the True Wisdom of God (December 15- December 31)

Unlike his devotional on the Psalms, which I’m reading now, this one pretty much uses up the whole page for the day. It isn’t a big page, so it doesn’t cover the material in an exhaustive fashion. But there is just enough to get you thinking while having a few nuggets to hang onto.

I found that often, in the providence of God, I needed to hear what he had to say that day. It coincided well with my needs in a way neither of us could anticipate. This was a helpful devotional, applying doctrine in pertinent ways.

I should have included it in my best reads of 2018. If you can find a copy (I can no longer find it on the WTS Bookstore site, but did on Amazon), I’d recommend buying it and planning on reading it next year. It is not burdensome, nor trite. It is thoughtful and gospel-oriented.

 


Habakkuk is not a minor prophet who gets much attention. It is a book that is difficult to read since you have little hope there as he complains to God and the answer is not quite to his liking.

ItNo photo description available. just doesn’t “preach” in our day of itching ears, prosperity and easy living.

This week I begin a sermon series on Habakkuk. As you begin you aren’t sure if the resources will be worth your while. You aren’t sure if you are going to get helpful perspectives and cover historical, exegetical, and practical issues well enough to prepare you to bring the Word to God’s people. Only time will tell if I refresh weary souls.

Calvin’s Commentary on Habakkuk is my interaction with the historic community. I try to pick at least one older commentary. We shouldn’t ignore how it was interpreted in the past. We stand on their shoulders rather than figure out everything from scratch. You generally can’t go wrong with Calvin.

Quick Review: Apparently general rules can be broken. In his lectures on Habakkuk, Calvin seemed to have very different interests than I did regarding the text. There were a few application points that I used, but for some reason it was largely an exercise in missing the boat. Perhaps by me. I often read him last and by then my ADD was flaring. Maybe that was the problem- a me issue.

D. I’ve got O. Palmer Robertson’s volume in the New International Commentary of the Old Testament series covering Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah. This is my more technical commentary for Habakkuk. Robertson is a capable scholar, so I feel like I’m in good hands as I seek to tackle any of those more technical questions.

Quick Review: This commentary covers three of the minor prophets. Thankfully it was not superficial. It could have been more in-depth but I did find it helpful at some key points. While not as valuable to me as some others, it was useful and I’d use it again.

Similar to that is Walter Kaiser’s volume, Micah -Malachi, in The Communicator’s Commentary Series. It should focus a bit more on how to preach it. We’ll see.

beginners-guide-snorkelling_enjoy_leadQuick Review: I was not impressed with this commentary. Granted, it spans from Micah to Malachi, but I thought that it didn’t go into enough depth. It didn’t contribute much to my understanding and application of Habakkuk. I think I could have saved time by not reading this, but it didn’t generally take long to read. At times I disagreed with his conclusions, but there wasn’t enough background given for him to¬† change my mind about his views. This is a snorkling, not suba nor deep sea diving kind of commentary.

I read some good reviews on Habakkuk by Heath Thomas, part of the Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary series. This is also more to the exegetical/technical side of things. It offers to bridge the gap between biblical and systematic theology.

Quick Review: Initially I was disappointed. I was not thrilled with the layout and wished that I’d begun to read the volume before the series began. After the commentary on the three chapters, he had chapters on some of the themes that arose in the book. I never got to those. After the initial disappointment I found that his verse by verse commentary was very helpful. At times I was discouraged as he claimed a particular portion was among the hardest passages in the OT to translate/interpret. Hard words on a hard topic. This would be one of the volumes I’d encourage you to read to grapple with Habakkuk as he grapples with the justice of God.

John Currid often provides lots of archeological & historical background in his commentaries. As a result, I picked up his volume Habakkuk: The Expectant Prophet. It is not very thick, but I expect to get some good nuggets from it.

Quick Review: I think this may have come from a sermon series he did. I was not disappointed in the slightest by this volume. It was probably the most helpful book I read. He answered some exegetical questions, and had some. great illustrations that I used. There was some ANE background on subjects like sieges. I got more than nuggets from this one.

Even shorter is D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ (I’ll never say it the same after watching the Lego Ninjago Movie with the kids) From Fear to Faith: Studies in the Book of Habakkuk and the Problem of History. The cover is pretty ugly with a rocket launcher and some B-movie monster (okay, actually a statue of some ancient idol that looks like a B-movie monster). Go figure. Maybe in addition to watching wrestling with the grandkids he watched monster movies.

Quick Review: If you are looking for exegesis, help understanding what Habakkuk means, wrestling with textual issues etc. This isn’t really the book for you. L-loyd goes after the bigger picture in this book. While written in the 50’s with the threat of Soviet communism looming large, he does provide some good direction in helping you to make those epochal adjustments from Habakkuk’s day to ours. There were some great quotes in this book.

Habakkuk: Struggling with God’s Justice

Sadly, my sermon on Habakkuk 1:1-4 did not record properly.

The Babylonians are Coming! The Babylonians are Coming! (Hab. 1:5-11)

Seriously? (Hab. 1:12-2:1)

The Righteous Live by Faith (Hab. 2:2-5)

Woe Unto Them! (Hab. 2:6-20)

In Wrath Remember Mercy (Hab. 3:1-15)

I Still Believe & Rejoice (Hab. 3:16-19)


I came home from vacation to find a box of books I had forgotten that I had ordered. There was a clearance sale. Some had arrived before I left for vacation and this was the balance of the order.

Since I’ve chosen to read The Works of John Newton this year, I decided to read some shorter books on a variety of subjects to broaden my reading for the year.

I decided to begin with The Ascension: Humanity in the Presence of God by Tim Chester and Jonny Woodrow. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book on the subject of the ascension. This is generally a neglected doctrine, at least among Protestants.

Yet, I thought this an unusual book for Tim Chester. I’ve liked other books of his, but this seemed to be a less practical and more theological topic. Robert Letham? Sure, I can see him writing a volume on the ascension. Tim Chester? Not so much.

This is not just a different subject than usual for Chester but also writing style. Perhaps it is the presence of Woodrow. It is not written in the more popular style that Chester typically uses. It is not quite academic either. It draws a good balance.

The book is a mere 3 chapters and 92 pages long. Don’t confuse that with being shallow or superficial. It certainly isn’t exhaustive, but it handles what it does cover well. There are some good footnotes with resources to use for further reading. Some may be hard to find. My first attempt at finding an older volume by Derek Thomas was futile, but there are other places for me to look.

The first two chapters cover Jesus as Ascended Priest and Ascended King. They anticipated my (and other’s) critique regarding the final chapter which was not Ascended Prophet but Ascended Man. I believe they could and should have added a 4th chapter covering the missing office of Christ. It bears discussion. This is one way in which the present volume is not exhaustive.

“Let’s be honest: the ascension of Jesus is weird.”

It is a nearly unique event that makes it difficult for us to talk about with people. We struggle to understand it, so how can we explain it to non-Christians. But we must for there is no Christianity without it!

I say nearly unique because in one of the few points of disagreement, I think God prepared us with taking up of Enoch and then Elijah.

In the introduction they address a few of the objections people may have to the idea of an ascension. Things like “Wouldn’t evangelism be a whole lot easier if Jesus was still on earth?”

“The ascension seems a bad strategy. It removes the key piece of evidence that substantiates the claims of Christianity.”

And so we see the struggle we can often experience as we consider the ascension. It is not simply the reward for a righteous man like Enoch (though it is that too). This is the removal from earth of the most important person who ever lived, the object of our faith. And that perhaps is the point- He’s an object of our faith, not our sight. But it is more significant that simply that.

“The ascension is the enthronement of Jesus. He receives all authority and sends us out to declare that authority to the world. The ascension is the beginning of mission.”

I thought the first chapter, Ascended Priest, was the best chapter. It moved me to worship as I read of Christ ascended as my Great High Priest carrying my name (among others) into the presence of the Father. A good amount of theology is covered in a short space. This is good biblical theology as they moved through the Old Testament to show greater fulfillment and types revealed in Jesus’ ascension.

They frequently connect this doctrine with our union with Christ. We are present before the Father because we are united to the Son who is physically present before the Father.

“Our presence before God is as certain as Christ’s presence before God. Our salvation is safe and secure as long as Christ is in heaven.”

Jesus is there, as our Priest, not only interceding for us but leading our worship. We worship not only on earth but in heaven because of our union with Christ. The Father hears our voice!

The authors then move to the subject of Jesus as our Ascended King who is currently subduing His enemies while we wake and sleep. He is re-establishing God’s rule on a rebellious planet from His seat at the right hand of the Father. He has and is accomplishing what no mere son of David could do.

They look at the Ascension “from above” by tying it into Daniel 7 as the Son of Man appears before the Ancient of Days in the heavenly court. This is legal coronation as He is invested with authority to rule. Earthly kingdoms are being superceded by the kingdom as the gospel is announced and trusted.

“If he’s enthroned in Jerusalem then He is just Israel’s king. No, Jesus is enthroned in heaven as the king of the whole world.”

The new Adam is not merely the son of God but the Son of God who comes “as the world’s king to rescue the world.” He reigns thru His people as they continue with the mission He gave in the Great Commission. In this they want us to see a bigger gospel than the individualized one. We do believe as individuals, but we become part of a bigger Story, a bigger Body and an everlasting kingdom. We are citizens of heaven, and citizenship is not a private thing but a public one.

They spend some time on the necessity of a bodily ascension instead of a spiritualized one. He is both King by virtue of divinity but also a human king sitting on the heavenly throne. He rules not only over “spiritual” realms but the material realm as well. Rather than immediately establish the kingdom in its fulness, Jesus left “earth to allow those who belong to the old age time to repent.” They explain the already/not yet aspects of Jesus’ reign well. The new age has begun while the old age continues until Jesus does return. We live within a great tension.

We can see this tension in a number of ways. Personally: we are at the same time righteous and sinners. We partake of the new age thru justification and sanctification. But we are not yet glorified until we are in His immediate presence. Justified by faith alone we not only seek to become righteous but thru the proclamation of the gospel bring others into the new age. We work to change the societies in which we live, reflecting the rule of Christ. But this won’t be completed apart from His return. We should neither “give up” because it will all “burn anyway” nor expect to usher in some golden age before the return of Jesus. We work for righteousness though we know it won’t be accomplished (there will still be poor, still be famine, still be racism etc.).

The third chapter, Ascended Man, was probably the least focused. It contains some important material. But the lack of an office creates a broader stroke. In some ways they try to cover too much territory and engage in some philosophical speculation.

The begin with the scandal of the ascended man by taking a look at John 6. He see a Messiah who came down from heaven, who promises resurrection to those who partake of Him, and the disciples will “see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before!”. In the Ascension, the Son of Man is not going someplace He’s never been. He’s returning to His glory. But, He goes as Man blazing a trail for humanity. They express it as ‘making a place for humanity in heaven’. This idea of eternal bodily existence was scandalous to the Greeks who generally had a view of the body as a prison for the soul which is escaped in “salvation.” Our understanding of salvation is bodily.

“The ascension is the story of a body moving to heaven. It is not escape from the bodily realm, but the entry of humanity- in our physical-ness- into the heaven, the sphere of God.”

Here they get into discussing heaven and earth as “two separate planes that intersect” rather than heaven being “above” earth. He reminds us of Narnia, another world that intersected with ours so that at times people could move between them. In unpacking this they bring up theoretical physics and Einstein’s theory of relativity. Space, time and motion are about the relationships between things. This could be difficult for some to wrap their minds around.

Image result for lord's supperNext they address how the “absent Christ is present through the Spirit.” The ascension results in the outpouring of the Spirit as Jesus now engages in His heavenly ministry on earth. The humanity of Christ has not been transformed and omnipresent but is available thru the Spirit who dwells in His people making Christ present to them, preserving our union with Christ. This plays out in the Reformed understanding of Communion. Rather than confuse the natures of Christ, nor transfer attributes creating one new nature, we uphold the two natures of Christ but recognize how the Spirit mediates His presence with us and our presence with Him. Following Calvin they say: “It is not that Christ comes down to us in the Lord’s Supper. Rather, by the Spirit, we ascend to be with Christ in the Lord’s Supper.”

In ministry we are people in two places (earth and heaven) and two times (present age and age to come) through Christ. They differentiate between an ascensional ministry and an incarnational ministry. Like J. Todd Billings in his book Union with Christ, they critique incarnational ministry. There is a way to affirm this as loving people as Jesus did and serving them in their context. But we are not to think of ourselves as His presence on earth, as though He re-enters creation through us. They note: “Christ does not need a replacement body because He is still embodied.” We do not complete the Messianic task, He does.

Lots of distinctions are made in this section as they deal with some concepts common in evangelicalism. They want us to properly understand kingdom growth, not in spatial terms, but in the number of people who gladly enter His rule. Here they also discuss the “pilgrim principle” for our remaining time on earth prior to His return.

I found this to be a helpful book to introduce the meaning and implications of the bodily ascension. I am surprised that Tim Chester wrote a book on this subject (with Jonny Woodrow), but I’m mighty glad he did. Aside from some of the theoretical physics and their application in the Lord’s Supper via Calvin, this is an accessible book for normal people. They connect all this to our salvation, mission and Christian life such that this is not ivory tower navel gazing.

“Christ has taken our nature into heaven to represent us; and has left us on earth, with his nature, to represent him.” John Newton


From the 20th century, Francis Schaeffer cast a long shadow that is still seen in the 21st. L’Abri and his disciples like Os Guinness, Jerram Barrs, and Nancy Pearcey continue his work. I enjoyed his book True Spirituality, but got bogged down in He is There and He Is Not Silent. I’ve been meaning to read some of his other books.

As a result, I decided to read Schaeffer on the Christian Life: Countercultural Spirituality by William Edgar on my study leave. Reading a book in this series has been my practice for the last few years. As I consider our changing place in American culture, I thought this would be a helpful read. In some ways it was. In other ways it wasn’t as helpful as I’d hoped.

The book was written by one of his disciples: William Edgar. Edgar was a college student seeking truth when he visited L’Abri and met with Schaeffer. Francis was instrumental in his conversion and growth as a Christian. He teaches apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

He begins the book with that personal reflection of his experience with Fran, as close friends like Edgar called him. This volume is not hagiography, however. He’s honest about Schaeffer’s shortcomings. He tries to present a balanced volume, and I believe he succeeds.

One of the flaws that Edgar mentions is his interaction with Cornelius Van Til, who was his professor for a time. Their apologetic method was very similar, but they seemed to dwell on their differences. In Edgar’s opinion they often talked past one another, as is often the case in such debate.

He then moves to Schaeffer’s life in two parts. The first is his early life, and life after the beginning of L’Abri. Little is known of his ancestors prior to his grandfather’s arrival in America in 1869, after the Franco-Prussian War. He apparently burned all of the family records.

His father only received a 3rd grade education. He apparently was a thoughtful man, as Fran would later reflect that working-class people could be deep intellectually. He worked hard, including time in the Navy. They attended a Lutheran church and believed the gospel. They would struggle financially even as they tried to leave behind the poverty of their parents. As a result, they only had one child (Francis). No books were in the house. The only vacations were trips to nearby Atlantic City.

In addition to this obstacles, Francis likely had dyslexia. Despite this he had a thirst for knowledge. He was driven by consistency. He wanted it to all fit together. He had an interest in Greek philosophers. He read the Bible through so he could reject it with integrity. Instead he became convinced that it was the most consistent way of looking at life that answered all the big questions.

At college he met Edith, who grew up in China because her parents served as missionaries with the China Inland Mission. This experience may have influenced L’Abri’s position as a “faith mission” (not sharing financial needs with others but simply praying for them). They both attended a meeting at First Presbyterian Church to hear a Unitarian attempt to refute Christianity. She responded to him citing J. Gresham Machen and Robert Dick Wilson from the new seminary down the street. This caught Francis’ ear and attention. He walked her home and requested she break off a date with another young man to go out with him. They were well suited for each other and complemented each other well.

Francis would end up at the new seminary, Westminster, as a student. There were two issues that the seminary left open: the millennium and Christian liberty. This would become a big issue in the also new Orthodox Presbytery Church in addition to the seminary. The last exam that Machen administered was to Francis, at his bedside.

Some in the community forming around Westminster and the OPC were historic premillennial and abstained from Christian liberties. They struggled with those who weren’t so inclined. It was not enough for them to separate from the Presbyterian Church in America (the liberal northern denomination that no longer exists and not to be confused with current PCA), and they separated from the OPC to found the Bible Presbyterian Church.

This was pertinent for his spiritual crisis. Schaeffer realized that he was not gracious and kind to those with whom he disagreed. He realized he was wrong. Hopefully most of us come to this understanding as we age in years and mature in Christ. That is counter-cultural in this age of outrage. It is one thing Edgar probably could have spend more time.

While the pastor of a church in St. Louis, God seemed to be calling Schaeffer to Europe. When he left St. Louis, his friend and one of my former professors Elmer Smick took over his responsibilities. At this time Schaeffer met Martyn Lloyd-Jones who similarly called evangelicals to leave the Church of England. He also met C. Everett Koop (who treated his daughter) and Hans Rookmaaker who would become life-long friends.

Image result for L'AbriSchaeffer talked much culture and was often critical. His views were not the conservatism of, say, D. James Kennedy, but those of the revolutionary. While they may have overlapped at points, Schaeffer wanted Christians to buck the trends and lived in a counter-cultural fashion. This was to exhibit the reality of Christianity.

His spiritual crisis in 1951-52 resulted in True Spirituality. It was about living in the reality of Christianity. We are really guilty, and Jesus has really made atonement for sin. Schaeffer stressed the authority of Scripture. “Wherever it touches upon anything, it does so with true truth, but jot with exhaustive truth …” He focused on propositional truth as conveyed by the Scriptures. The Bible spoke about how things really were.

A large part of his apologetic was to point out to people how their worldview didn’t match up with their lives, and often couldn’t. He looked for the inconsistency, the borrowed capital (as David Bahnsen calls it) of their view. He wanted to bring people to square with reality.

“All of us battle with the problems of reality … Reality is not meant to be only creedal, though creeds are important. Reality is to be experienced on the basis of a restored relationship with God through the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross.”

This brings freedom to the Christian. We are free from the bonds of sin and the bonds of legalism to live free in Christ to live godly lives of faith and love as expressed in the Ten Commandments. That is because we’ve been delivered from the Law’s loud thunder. Still sinners, we have both died with Christ and die daily. Self-denial is a central reality in the Christian life.

As subversives we sometimes have cobelligerents: people with whom we agree on a particular issue but do not share the Christian faith and worldview. This seems to be his view of common grace. We both see the truthfulness of this issue and work together even though we don’t see all of life the same way.

Prayer was an important and ordinary part of life at L’Abri. Edgar draws heavily here from Edith’s writings. He often does this since her writings were more about the practical aspects of their lives while Francis was looking at the bigger pictures. This was one of the ways their writings complemented each others’. Prayer is one of the ways we show we believe in God- we rely on Him in prayer. The cross invites us to ask for His help.

In terms of guidance, Edith writes that they didn’t really have a long range plan for L’Abri. They responded to the challenges that came their way. As finite people, making grand plans we can’t actually accomplish didn’t seem to make sense to her. As I face the realities of pastoral ministry, this seems to be what happens no matter how much I want to plan long-range. Cavman plans and God laughs.

Edgar then moves us into the topic of affliction which will surely come upon Christians in various forms. He addresses how Schaeffer dealt with Albert Camus’ dilemma as expressed in the plague. Do you fight against God to seek a cure or against humanity by rejecting one? Schaeffer sees this as a false dilemma. God loves humanity and to fight for a cure would be to fight on God’s side. In Camus’ atheistic world, there is no way to evaluate good and evil, there is no standard of justice.

Schaeffer had a complex relationship with the Church. He loved the Church as Christ’s bride. But he was critical of the ways the evangelical church strayed from its calling. Many who spent time at L’Abri would struggle in church life as a result. Schaeffer would not point to external problems like modernism or liberalism as the Church’s biggest threat, but to trying to fulfill its calling the power of the flesh. The middle class evangelical church is also risk adverse. We don’t want to risk our middle class life and compromise as a result.

“Schaeffer taught the general principle of form within freedom, an freedom within form- especially in the church.” They were not antitheses but needed on another to be meaningful. Jesus has set us free and life finds form within this spiritual freedom. We have patterns that emerge. Within those forms we are able to enjoy a measure of freedom. As one who needs to know the boundaries but wants to play within them rather than be straitjacketed by them, I grasp this. Form is meant to be a guide, not stifling.

“Unlimited freedom will not work in a lost world; some structure and form are necessary.”

He then moves into engagement with the world. This is the application of a revolutionary Christianity to a fallen world. His expectations were not perfectionism- either in the Christian life nor in society. The historical (having taken place in space & time, not simply the belief of the Church) Christianity has historically changed the cultures in which it has taken root like yeast affects dough. It speaks to the issues of any day, calling society and individuals to forsake sin.

As I noted, this book stirred up an interest to read more of him. I saw ways that I had been greatly influenced by what I have read of his. Or picked up from professors who read him.

I tended to see this book as more like Schaeffers views on a variety of subjects than how to live as a Christian in this world. It seemed less than helpful in this regard. It seemed too philosophical at times. Perhaps it was just how Edgar structured the book, and the big themes he addressed. I was left without it making a big impression on me as other volumes in this series have. Interesting? Yes. Impactful? We’ll see.

“I have never met anyone anywhere like Francis Schaeffer, who took God so passionately seriously, people so passionately seriously, and truth so passionately seriously.” Os Guinness