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I’ve been reading the new Essentials Edition of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion since this summer. This is not an edited version, but a new translation of the 1541 edition of the Institutes. I am enjoying it very much. As I’ve been reading, I’ve thought at times, I should blog about this. Unfortunately, for much of the fall I was editing my own book so there wasn’t much time to blog on it. I have a bit more time these days, so I thought I would go back. My desire is to encourage others to read this volume.

It begins with a chapter on the Knowledge of God. This should be no surprise to anyone familiar with The Institutes of the Christian Religion. This volume is not broken up into 4 books like the one edited by McNeill. The material is, at times, covered in a different order. Additionally, this edition is not as exhaustive as future editions would be.

The first paragraph is familiar:

“The whole sum of our wisdom- wisdom, that is, which deserves to be called true and assured- broadly consists of two parts, knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves.”

As made in the image of God, we cannot truly know ourselves without knowing God. As we know God, we discover that “he is the fount of all truth, wisdom, goodness, righteousness, judgment, mercy, power and holiness.” The purpose of this knowledge is that we would worship and honor him.

The purpose of knowing ourselves is “to show us our weakness, misery, vanity and vileness, to fill us with despair, distrust and hatred of ourselves, and then to kindle in us the desire to seek God, for in him in found all that is good and of which we ourselves are empty and deprived.” In other words, we see our depravity and the marring of his image that we might seek like in him. It sounds harsh, but it is similar to Paul’s discussion of the purpose of the law prior to conversion, to reveal our sin and drive us to Jesus.

This is why it is wisdom; this knowledge is to be acted upon, not simply studied abstractly. Knowledge of self is intended to encourage us to seek after God, and leads us to find him. Calvin then notes that “no one ever attains clear knowledge of self unless he has first gazed upon the face of the Lord, and then turns back to look upon himself.” This is similar to Isaiah 6, when the prophet saw God in his glory and then finally saw himself as he really was.

Calvin notes that an awareness of God is common to all people. We all have some “understanding of his majesty.” Calvin is quite dependent on Romans 1 as he thinks through all of this. He is not a speculative theologian, but one who seeks to understand what has been revealed to us in Scripture, and its implications. Romans 1 instructs us that people turned from the true God to idols, “exchanging the truth for the lie ” (Rom. 1). In rejecting the truth, we have become perverted by self-will. Instead of seeking all good in God, we have settled for the lie of the Serpent in the Garden and seek it in and by ourselves: for our glory, not his. Instead of seeking to submit to him, people resist and rebel against him. As Paul says in Ephesians and Colossians, people are at enmity with God. We fall prey to superstition and servile fear. People flee from him, as a guilty Adam and Eve fled from the sound of God approaching them.  This servile fear is “not enough to stop them from resting easy easy in their sin, indulging themselves and preferring to give fleshly excess free rein, rather than bringing it under the Holy Spirit’s control.” In other words, pride drives us to think we deserve better, and know better than God what is good for us. Fear leads us to believe that God does not have our best interests at heart and therefore his law is oppressive.

As we discover in the Psalms, he is good and wants good things for us, including trusting him to guard, guide, protect and provide for us. He wants us to trust him to redeem and rescue us.

Calvin briefly discusses the “Book of Nature” or creation which reveals his invisible qualities. If we study nature, and we should, we will discover much that testifies to his wisdom. We also see that he is revealed in his works of providence. We see that foolishness has consequences. (see Psalm 19 for instance)

But, as Romans 1 makes clear our thinking has become dark and futile. We don’t see what we should see, even though it is clear. The problem isn’t the Book of Nature (natural revelation) but how we understand and interpret it. We are without excuse. Instead of believing, we “so obscure God’s daily works, or else minimize and thus dismiss them” so that “he is deprived and robbed of the praise and thanks we owe him.”

We are dependent on God’s special revelation (Scripture) as a result (the second stanza of Psalm 19). We needed a book because we are prone to forget and are easily led into error. To know God we are utterly dependent upon the Scriptures (and the Spirit’s illumination).

Here Calvin reminds us that Scripture’s authority comes from God, as his word. It is not determined by the church (contra Rome). He briefly develops the ideas of the Spirit’s inner witness, it’s wisdom and truth and history of the truth which confirm the authority of Scripture.

“It is therefore not the role of the Holy Spirit, such as he is promised to us, to dream up fresh and original revelations, or to fashion a new kind of teaching, which alienates us from the gospel message which we have received. His role is rather to seal and confirm in our hearts the teaching provided for us in the gospel.”

The chapter ends with a slightly different form of “triple knowledge” than that expressed in the Heidelberg Catechism: “God’s mercy, one which the salvation of us all depends; his judgment, which he daily visits on the wicked, and which awaits them with even greater vigor, to their eternal shame; and his righteousness, by which his faithful people are generously preserved.”

“However, since God does not allow us to behold him directly and up close, except in the face of Christ who is visible only to the eye of faith, what remains to be said concerning the knowledge of God is better left until we come to speak of the understanding of faith.”

 

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I recently picked up a book in an attempt to understand one of my children better so I can parent better. It is a book on the concept of the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). I heard about the book from a congregant who thought I was a HSP. As I read some of the book this morning, thinking both of my child and my self, I found both confusion and clarity.

My Presuppositions: We are all broken, though in different places and to different degrees. As a result of Adam’s sin, we are not only sinners but we are also affected physically and emotionally. We are a mess, and while Jesus doesn’t keep us as messy we don’t always understand the mess. Is that messy? Some aspects of our brokenness are there from the beginning of our lives. They are genetic. The author mentions this with regard to HSPs. She sees them as “naturally occurring” on the spectrum of sensitivity. There are some, I gather she’d say, who look like HSPs but aren’t: they’ve been traumatized by something. Their increased sensitivity would not be innate, but picked up from their environment or circumstances. Some of our brokenness comes at the hands of others after birth: parents, friends, strangers. It is hard for us, much of the time, to tell which it is.

The Problem of Pop Psychology: Often times symptoms overlap. A condition is describe in such terms that too many people see themselves there. If you read too many books, you can think you’ve got everything. Or just the wrong thing.

Years ago I read Driven to Distraction on the recommendation of a friend who struggled with ADD and saw a similar struggle in me. Don’t confuse ADD with ADHD. I never saw myself as hyperactive, but I struggle to remain focused. I am easily distracted and have a hard time in environments like airplanes for anything much longer than an hour. I get restless leg syndrome, I can’t read anything more engaging than a novel and end up fairly miserable.

But do I have ADD? I can check enough boxes in the self-test to say ‘yes.’ But not only are we a mess, but a mysterious mess. Our symptoms could be explained by other things. For instance, the author of the book on HSPs distinguishes it from ADD (this was helpful!). They differ, apparently on where the blood flows more in their brains.

“Children with ADD probably have very active go-for-it systems and relatively inactive pause-to-check systems. … But ADD is a disorder because it indicates a general lack of adequate ‘executive functions,’ such as decision making, focusing, and reflecting on outcomes. HSCs are usually good at all of this, at least when they are in a calm, familiar environment. For whatever reason (the cause is not known), children with ADD find it difficult to learn to prioritize, to return their attention to what they are doing once they have glanced outside or know the teacher is not talking to them personally. … another reason HSCs can be misdiagnosed as having ADD is because, if the distractions are numerous or prolonged, or they are emotionally upset and thus overstimulated already from within, they may very well become overwhelmed by outer distractions and behave as if agitated or ‘spacey.'” Elaine Aron (The Highly Sensitive Child)

I can prioritize, reflect on outcomes and have a pause-to-check system. I am not a big risk taker. I am thoughtful. But I may be easily overwhelmed by data or sensory input. I can study to music and TV, but not to talking. Or apparently with an internet connection at hand. I may be distracted, but for different reasons.

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Ah, life’s rich pageant!

We are now past the “demolition” phase and into the “reconstruction” phase in our renovation. No longer will I be preaching with a huge plastic sheet behind me. There should be no more unexpected surprises because they discovered something wrong with the building when they did x, y or z. We have a pretty good handle on the costs now.

Those tricksy costs. When we started this back in the fall, we gave “swags” of about $250k. We did not ask for approval yet. We needed harder numbers. The reality is that those harder numbers, while harder to swallow, were not really hard numbers. Fortunately we haven’t doubled the original estimate but between the unexpected repairs (like the 300 foot trench for the sewer line) and the unexpected costs imposed by the county (usually connected with environmental stuff) the total has gone up over 50%.

You begin to second guess yourself. Did we make the right decision? Did we decide too soon? Are we like the guy in the parable who didn’t count the cost and now we’ll have a half completed project? No. While I think the Enemy would like to keep me up at night thinking we goofed, or were disobedient, I don’t think we were.

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I’m reading a book on sermons by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones on John 4 in preparation for my sermons on that chapter coming up. The book is only 750ish pages. I have plenty of work ahead of me. But some of the sermons are well worth it, like one entitled Spiritual Dullness and Evasive Tactics preached in October, 1966. Think about that for a moment, 1966. Amazing to me how much of what he says fits our contemporary situation.

He begins with noting the essence of Christianity: “we have within us a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” The Christian life is a spiritual life under the power and direction of the Spirit. This great salvation “is to enable us to live in the world and to look forward to the glory that is to come.” This positive beginning shifts as the Dr. begins to lay the smack down. He gets quickly to exposing the sins of his time in England that mirror those of ours here in America.

“We face national prejudices, class prejudices, race prejudices, and so on. There is almost no end to them. What harm they have done in the life of the individual Christian, and what harm they have done in the life of the church throughout the centuries- the things we cling to so tenaciously simply because we have been born like that!”

He was addressing the Jewish-Samaritan prejudice. Later in the sermon he brings us to the problems of Apartheid and the Civil Rights struggle in the U.S. The people in England were denouncing the white South Africans and Americans. He admits, obviously, the sinfulness of racism, but takes this as evasiveness. The woman at the well used this prejudice to evade Jesus, and the Dr.’s contemporaries were using those prejudices in other nations to evade the truth about themselves.

“You see, in denouncing somebody else, you are shielding yourself. While you are denouncing these people or friends in America or somewhere else over this racial problem, you are full of self-righteous indignation. That is very clever, but you are just evading the problem of your own life, the running sore of your soul.”

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Earlier in his book Love into Light, Peter Hubbard talked about change. There he talked about unrealistic expectations for change. Change is an internal thing.

Discussion of change for a homosexual (as well as for any sexually immoral person, like addicts) eventually gets to the issues of celibacy and marriage. How you understand yourself if important to this discussion. If you view yourself as the world labels you (“homosexual”, “pervert” “misfit” or “dirty”) you will live out that reality. If you view yourself as God views you if you are in Christ (beloved, holy, son) you will begin to live out of this new reality. No, not perfectly. It is a progress. But God’s labels for those in Christ provide something of the goal.

He notes that we struggle with this notion of an “assigned” life or label. Deep down most of us suspect that God doesn’t have our best in mind. Deep down we think that we know the path to a fulfilling life better than God does. We forget that this is what got us in the deep hole we were in in the first place.

Additionally, Matthew Vines, he notes, talks about how homosexuals often feel left out as their friends marry and have kids. This is not something particular to homosexuals. I didn’t get married until I was 36, and a father until 39. I saw so many friends get married and have kids. I felt left out, forgotten and as if it would never happen to me. That’s the funny thing about sin, it deceives us into thinking we are the only one who feels this way. We don’t realize that others who don’t share our reasons also feel the same kinds of things. Marrying late wasn’t really MY choice. I wanted to get married, but experienced that frustrating reality that the people I wanted to marry didn’t want to marry me. And the people who wanted to marry me were not ones I wanted to marry.

I, like many in my state, wondered “what if God is calling me to be single, forever?” It seemed a fate worse than death at times. I wasn’t struggling with SSA. This is a human problem, not merely a SSA problem. My wife and I have many older friends who have never been married.

There are a number of people in the Bible who were never married or were widowed and remained single and alone with no outlet for their sexual desire. Jesus is pretty prominent there. As fully (hu)man, He would have experienced sexual desire. He would have found particular people attractive. But he never acted upon such desire. He mission trumped all those internal feelings and desires, such that His food was to do the will of His Father.

We also see Paul (probably widowed since he was a Pharisee of Pharisees). Paul was a sinner, like the rest of us. Paul lived in a culture with few if any sexual boundaries. There was temptation without and within. Surely there was loneliness and frustration. As the head of her household, Lydia was single or widowed as well. As that head of household, there would have been slaves or servants she could use to satisfy her sexual desires, as was common. But every indication is that she lived a faithful, obedient life that flowed out of her faith and love for Christ.

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Do you struggle with preoccupation with yourself? Do you find yourself caring too much about what others think about you? or what you think about you?

Perhaps this is the booklet for you. Tim Keller’s The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness is adapted from a sermon of his on 1 Corinthians 3. As a result, this is a relatively short treatment of a particular question. As such it can’t say everything there is to say about the subjects with which it deals. Someone I know raised some questions about this booklet, and I hope to address them briefly toward the end. I will also make a short application for pastors (something Keller does elsewhere).

He introduces the passage with the stark difference between traditional and modern thought about people’s problems. Traditionally, pride (hubris) has been identified as one of our problems that creates other problems. Criminals think more of themselves than others, for instance, and this justifies their crimes. Something odd happened in the Western world in the not too distant past. The prevailing notion, still prevalent in education, is that people actually suffer from low self-esteem. If only they would have a better view of themselves they wouldn’t be criminals, poor etc. We now, statistically, have students who are progressively worse but feel better and better about themselves despite failure. Thankfully, this view regarding self-esteem is finally being challenged academically.

The passage Keller is handling is addressing the divisions that have been plaguing the church of Corinth. The factions have allied themselves to particular teacher. The factions are filled with pride and boastful of their relationship or adherence to their favorite teacher (Paul, Peter, Apollos etc.). I know, we would never do anything like that. This leads us into contemplating the ego.

The natural state of the ego, Keller argues, is that it is inflated. Paul does not use hubris, but a word he uses often in the letters to the Corinthians and in Colossians 2. It isn’t used elsewhere in Scripture. It does have that idea of over-inflated or bloated. This means that the human ego is empty (just filled with hot air), painful (stretched too far), busy (looking to fill that emptiness) and fragile (not this is not a special award). He draws on (surprise!) C.S. Lewis, Soren Kierkegaard and Madonna.

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One of the free books I got at General Assembly was R.C. Sproul’s The Truth of the Cross. When I was a young Christian I discovered R.C. and his books and tapes (that’s how long ago it was) were an important part of my growth as a Christian. But I have not read much of his stuff in the last 15 years or so. So much to read, so little time.

“If anything has been lost from our culture, it is the idea that human beings are privately, personally, individually, ultimately, inexorably accountable to God for their lives.”

But I decided to read this one. I’d been wanting to read it, and now I owned it. This little book is typical R.C. Sproul, which is a good thing. A very good thing. My former professor has a knack for making theology easy to understand. Many of the recent books that have come out to defend the various attacks on the atonement have been excellent, but for the more theologically advanced audience. The reason R.C. was so instrumental to the resurgence of Reformed Theology is his ability to “put the cookies on the counter”. He’s accessible for all kinds of people.

“He is the One Who stands there, backing up our indebtedness, taking on Himself the requirement of what must be paid.”

As usual, R.C. brings the past into the present. We find Anselm, Augustine, Calvin, Luther and many more. That is another thing that makes his books great- introducing you to the great minds of the past.

He discusses the necessity of the atonement, the justice of God, the various aspects of the atonement (surety, ransom, redemption, freedom etc.), the place of the covenant and explaining particular, or limited, atonement. All this in his winsome, accessible style. But he is also clear about where the lines need to be drawn.

“If you take away the substitutionary atonement, you empty the cross of its meaning and drain all the significance out of the passion of our Lord Himself. If you do that, you take away Christianity itself.”

It is well worth reading for anyone who wants to better understand what Jesus was doing on the cross and why. And that should include every Christian.

Thank you to Ligonier Ministries for making this available to those of us at General Assembly. At least, I thought it was for free.

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Leaders made mistakes. Even pastors do. The good ones learn from their mistakes and the bad ones don’t. As a result, I’ve been reading Mistakes Leaders Make by Dave Kraft.

The first mistake Christian leaders can make is to allow ministry to replace Jesus. This is quite subtle. It is a question of identity and satisfaction. The identity and satisfaction of a Christian is intended to be Christ. But the pastor or Christian leader can, like other people, have them shift to the work we do. In this case that is ministry.

“Our identity in and intimacy with Jesus slowly dissipates, and over time, the ministry begins to occupy center stage in our affections, time, and focus.”

One of the contributors to this process can be ambition. Godly ambition is a good thing. But it can morph into selfish ambition and you don’t even realize.

Most pastors work long hours. They often feel the pressure for the church to grow. We have to invest ourselves intellectually, emotionally, financially and more. With that investment there can be that subtle shift into selfish ambition. We confuse our goals with God’s goals. Results become increasingly important. Our emotions begin to move up and down based on the numbers.

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About a month ago, WTS Bookstore ran a special deal on Jesus Loves the Little Children: Why We Baptize Children by Daniel Hyde. I had seen some people speak favorably of his presentation, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to pick up a number of copies for give-aways to help people understand why we in the Reformed tradition baptize the children of believers.

“Misunderstanding and false assumptions about infant baptism abound.”

A few things to keep in mind. Not all who baptize children do so for the same reasons. The reason why Reformed Churches follow this long-standing practice is different than why other parts of the church do. We don’t baptize any children, but only those who have one parent who professes faith in Christ and is a member of the local church.

One of my elders read the book at the same time I did. We had very different experiences reading the book. He found some parts confusing. But, having read numerous books on the subject of baptism, I was not confused by any of it. Perhaps there was unfamiliar terminology used. So, it is possible that this succinct treatment is not as accessible as I think it is.

In his introduction, he talks briefly about why this is such a hot button issue. He uses a quote from Spurgeon that I’ve often seen on the internet that implies that the practice is “Popery” and led to the damnation of countless millions. Spurgeon is failing to distinguish between the practice and the rationale. Outwardly, Reformed churches may look like Roman Churches in this regard, but our rationale is well-thought out and quite different from theirs. Popery it isn’t. But, is it biblical?

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Every so often I follow a link, read a blog or an excerpt of a book (or a whole one) which argues against the complementarian view of Scripture and therefore marriage. What I so often find are straw man arguments. They either don’t understand or don’t want to understand the view. They present distortions of the view as the view. That would be like saying Benny Hinn is a mainstream charismatic. He’s not, and to present him as such is unfair. As one writer noted recently on his blog (Kevin DeYoung, I think) you must present your opponent’s view as one they would recognize. Egalitarians, in my experience, have not done this.

While re-reading Desiring God, I was struck by how well Piper presented the standard complementarian position (though I have a few quibbles). Piper sets this within the context of Christian Hedonism. What does marriage look like with people are pursuing their delight in Christ instead of pursuing their own agenda of manufactured, demanding, substandard delights.

It may be helpful to consider dancing for a moment. A traditional dance, with a partner, is coordinated. One person leads, and the other follows. Joy is found in this as they work together for mutual joy. Much of today’s dancing is uncoordinated. You don’t even need a partner. It is chaotic and pleases only the dancer. Unless there is some bump and grind, but one the dance floor that is a vulgar mess, not a picture of marital bliss.

“… husbands should devote the same energy and time and creativity in  making their wives happy that they devote naturally to making themselves happy.”

Part of this can be summed up as finding your delight in the joy of your spouse instead of at the expense of your spouse. You delight in giving them joy (long-term, God-oriented joy).  But Piper then delves deeper into Ephesians 5, the crux of the issue.

17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.  25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

Let’s start by remembering that Paul is taking about the Spirit-filled life. The ESV, unlike the NIV, reflects Paul’s grammar in showing submission as part of the Spirit-filled life. Gospel-driven submission is not produced by the flesh, but by the influence of the Spirit. This “one another” is taken by some to argue for “mutual submission”. I think it is better to view what follows as 3 particular relationships in which people are to submit to others: wives to husbands, children to parents, and slaves to masters (applied today as employees to employers). There is a relationship of legitimate authority that Paul recognizes in each of these. If we are to argue for mutual submission in marriage, then we should argue for mutual submission in the parent-child and work relationships. This runs completely contrary to the marriage relationship that Paul brings into focus to illustrate: Christ and the church.

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In his book Children at the Lord’s Table?, Cornelius Venema includes an appendix on the issue of baptism. This appendix, he notes, is his chapter in The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism edited by Gregg Strawbridge. This is an interesting irony since Gregg is one of the people mentioned who advocates for infant communion in the PCA.

“The argument in a nutshell is simply this: God established His church in the days of Abraham and put children into it. They must remain there until He puts them out. He has nowhere put them out. They are still then members of His Church and as such entitled to its ordinances.” B.B. Warfield

Venema rightly goes after the presuppositions that operate in this discussion. The case is not won on the basis of proof-texts because each side brings different presuppositions regarding the nature of the covenant of grace in its varying administrations. This appendix is here because Venema also sees this problem as the basis for the infant communion debate. He uses the appendix to spend more time explaining the proper relationship between the various administrations of the covenant of grace.

Venema admits both sides have arguments from silence. Just as there is no statement explicitly keeping children in the covenant community (no command to baptize them), there is no statement explicitly removing them from the covenant community. If there was, the would have been a serious battle in the church shortly after Pentecost.  We don’t see this. Rather, we do see, from the beginning, the repetition of the phrase “this promise is for you and your children”. Peter continues to expand it to the Gentiles. Peter is speaking the language of Genesis 12, 15 & 17 in the context of the sign of initiation into the covenant community (just like Genesis 17). But, I get ahead of myself.

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In my discussions with people who think the law has no place in the life of the Christian, one phrase often comes up- Christ is the end of the law.  I then try to put that phrase back into its proper context.  People would rather live with slogans than thinking about Scripture, and actually understanding the whole sentence.

3For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. Romans 10

Notice what is going on here.  Some people were ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God.  They used the law to establish their own righteousness as the basis of justification.  This, according to Paul, is utter foolishness.  Christ is the end of the law….

The Greek word is “telos”.  It, like the English word “end” can refer to termination, the last of a sequence and the aim or purpose of something.  In this passage, it does refer to “termination”.  The Law no longer provides righteousness for those who believe.  Christ provides it!

It goes too far to claim that this means the moral law has no purpose in the life of the Christian.  That is not what this text is saying.  That makes a phrase determinative despite the rest of the sentence.  It is bad theologizing!

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Yesterday was a strange day.  In more ways than one.

The late Public Enemy #1

Sunday night the world learned that Osama bin Laden was dead.  Part of me was glad for I longed to see him brought to justice for his war on America (keep that phrase in mind) and purposeful attacks on civilian targets.  You can’t just lay the feet of those murdered on 9/11 at his feet.  He is accountable for so many thousands more that have died as a direct result of his actions leading up to and including that day (as well as previous terror attacks).  The government does not bear the sword for nothing (Romans 13:4; 1 Peter 2:14), though its justice was not so swift in this event.

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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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I’ve been reading The Goldsworthy Trilogy for over a year.  It sort of hides in my nightstand, occasionally beckoning me to pick up and read.  Last night I listened.  And I was rewarded.

I’m currently in The Gospel in Revelation.  Barely.  I had read the introduction, which discussed some interpretative issues.  Last night I read, despite sagging eye lids, chapter 1.

“… the key to the truth, all the truth, about the kingdom of God is Jesus Christ in his life, death and resurrection.  John has woven this fact into the apocalyptic idiom by depicting the slain Lamb as the one who alone is worthy to unlock the truth.”

Only Jesus, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, who appears as a slain Lamb is worthy to open the scroll.  Jesus is the key to the whole of revelation.  Apart from him, the scroll is rolled up and sealed.  It is about him, and only he (through the ministry of the Spirit) can reveal it to us.

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I’m currently working my way through Genesis 2 for Sunday.  In his Epistles, Paul bases male headship in marriage & the church (aka complementarianism) in creation.  But there is more going on than that.

For those who aren’t familiar with the term, complementarianism teaches that men and women are equal in dignity but different in role or function in the home and the church.  This, sadly, is a relatively unpopular position.  But this shouldn’t surprise us since much of what the Bible teaches us offends the flesh.

Genesis 1 is the starting point with regard to our equal dignity.  “God created man (humanity) in his image; male and female he created them.”  Men and women are both made in God’s image, sharing in dignity.  Most people can accept the equal part (aside from those rejecting the notion we are made in God’s image).  The equality is not an issue.  This fundamental equality is also in view in Galatians with regard to salvation- “in Christ there is neither male nor female.”  He lists some other statuses that separate people.  The idea is that neither is more worthy of salvation than the other.  Neither has an advantage when it comes to Christ.  It does not mean that all distinctions disappear such that they cease to be men and women.

In Genesis 2-3 we see the following things which point us toward there being a complementary difference between men and women which includes male headship.

Adam Eve NT Parallel Text(s)
Created first X 1 Corinthians 11:8; 1 Timothy 2:13
Given the initial command X
Created for the other X 1 Corinthians 11:9
Sinned first X 1 Timothy 2:14
Whose sin condemned humanity? X Romans 5:12ff
Addressed 1st by God after sinning X
Cursed for “obeying/listening to” the other X

We see that though they are equal, God held Adam accountable for obeying Eve.  He addressed Adam first because Adam was humanity’s representative.  Paul uses this to explain how all of humanity fell into sin, and how people are saved through the 2nd Adam, Jesus.

We see that Adam needed help to fulfill the Creation Mandate (Gen. 1).  He gave Adam a wife instead of a pet.  He gave Adam an equal to complement him, to do the things he could not do alone.  While both men and women share the Creation Mandate (to fill, subdue and rule the earth) they emphasize different roles.

Both are needed to fill, but women (generally speaking) are more nurturing.  Moms stay home far more often than men because they are physically and emotional better suited for it.  Yes, they subdue and rule at home and outside the home.  Men are better suited physically and emotionally for subduing and ruling than filling.  Yes, men have parental responsibilities too.  But staying at home with children would drive me crazy far quicker than it does CavWife.  Struggling at work takes are greater toll on a man than struggling at relationships.  The opposite is true for women.  This is part of how we balance each other out.

One key passage is from Ephesians 5.  There we find that marriage is a picture of the relationship between Christ and the Church.  Marriage mirrors the gospel.  Husbands reflect Christ and wives reflect the Church.  Husbands lead- sacrificially!  Wives submit to their own husbands (not men in general) as the Church submits to Christ.  There is no role reversal.

This is a mystery, Paul says.  That means it is only something that we know because it has been revealed to us.  Marriage, including covenant headship, is was originally designed to be a picture of the gospel.  It was not societal construct for Paul, and certainly not oppressive.  It was a picture of the liberating, restorative gospel.

Covenant headship is not some out-moded way of thinking.  It is a biblical way of thinking, and a gospel-centered way of thinking.  Christian feminism and egalitarianism undermine the gospel by taking away God-given boundaries and roles.  In 1 Timothy 1:8-11 reveals the relationship between sound doctrine and sound living.  Sound (healthy) doctrine conforms to the gospel and produces healthy living.  Unsound doctrine departs from or distorts the gospel and leads to unsound living (sin).  When our marriages and churches no longer portray part of the gospel through male headship, the gospel is distorted and unsound living is the inevitable result.

As a result, complementarianism is not a non-essential doctrine.  It is a gospel-doctrine.  It should be believed and defended as rooted in creation and redemption that we might better understand the relationship between Christ and the Church which the gospel creates.

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This Sunday I’ll be preaching on Christ our Hope to kick of Advent season.  I’ll hit Matthew 1:1-14, discussing the hope(s) the Israelites had due to God’s promises to Abraham (Gen. 12) and David (2 Sam. 7).  I’ll talk about the seemingly interminable delay in the fulfillment of those promises.

As is often the case, my mind went back to The Shawshank Redemption.  It is one of my favorite movies.  The movie is essentially about hope, and its ability to sustain a suffering man.  Their hope had nothing to do with Christ, but ours does and is much greater and more powerful (Paul focuses on hope often in Romans).  I’d play this edited clip on Sunday, but there is an inappropriate word near the beginning.  Includes the exchange about hope between Andy and Red after Andy’s time in solitary, and the ending when Red discovers that hope is not as dangerous as he thought, but is really- the best of things.

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I started to see this book pop up on people’s blogs a few years ago.  The title, Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation by Graeme Goldsworthy, intrigued me.  So, using a gift certificate, I bought the book.  Recently, excited to begin reading, a friend wondered aloud why we need to read another book on hermeneutics.

I’m glad I didn’t listen.  I have not yet finished the book, but I’ve found it quite stimulating, understandable and grappling with an important topic: how should we, as evangelical Christians, interpret the Scriptures?

Here we will cover Part 1 of the book: Evangelical Prolegomena to Hermeneutics.   Goldsworthy introduces the idea of presuppositions into the question of hermeneutics: will we assume the supreme authority of God or assume human autonomy?  This is the question upon which so much hinges in biblical interpretation.  Our assumptions or presuppositions, in addition to this one, greatly affect the effectiveness of our attempts to understand, explain and apply the text of Scripture.

“The function of hermeneutics could be stated as the attempt to bridge the gap between the text inside its world and the readers/hearers inside their world.”

(more…)

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consider….

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Some timely thoughts from the Puritan William Gurnall for my needy heart.  They are from the Christian in Complete Armour daily devotional.  Perhaps some others need to hear them too.

The grace which God has given you is a sure pledge that more is on the way.

God is not a loan shark who will only lend you money with the hope you will be able to repay.  God gives grace with the full knowledge we will need more, and more, and…  That he has provided grace in the first place (will not he who did not spare his own Son, but offered him up for us all…) proves more is to come (give us all we need).  Christ sits upon the throne of grace- seek him!

The same faith which caused you to work against your sins as God’s enemies will undoubtedly move Him to work for you against them. … The reason so many Christians complain about the power of their corruptions lies in one of two roots- either they try to overcome sin without acting on the promises, or else they only pretend to believe.

Faith praises God in sad conditions. … Faith can praise God because it sees mercy even in the greatest affliction. … Will we let a few present troubles become a grave to bury the memory of all His past mercies?  What God takes from us is less than we owe Him, but what He leaves us is more than He owes (us).

I really like that last series.  It was a great struggle in my heart to think that we might lose our home in this time of transition.  I saw that it had become an idol, but one that filled me with fear and despair.  I had to remember that God owes me NOTHING.  All I have is His, and He is free to give and take away as He sees fit.  It is a difficult thing getting to that place of acceptance.  And it happened just before I read that, oddly enough.

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