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Side by Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love Welch, Edward T. cover imageWhen we think about ministry to one another we probably think of Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands. There is a new book to consider in training people to be involved in people’s lives. Side By Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love by Edward Welch.

Side By Side is shorter and less technical. It is less structured around counseling. It is about being a friend and being able to talk about the big or important things in life.

It is structured around need. The first part is We Are Needy, and the second part is We Are Needed. Each of us will gravitate to one of those two sections. We tend to be aware either of our needs or others needs. Truth is we are needy and we are also needed.

Welch begins with the fact that life is hard. He helps us to know (or remember) that our needs are of different kinds. Life is hard in God’s kingdom (while we are still on earth), our work, our relationship and our bodies. At the center of it all is our heart which interacts with the hardness of life. Scripture indicates that our hearts are busy places. The heart produces both good and bad desires (due to our regeneration). Our hard circumstances intersect with our busy hearts.

One persistent problem, though hardly the only one, is sin. Sin and temptation plague us. We tend to hide our sin. We’ll talk with people about our suffering (we love to complain) but struggle to talk to people about our sin. As he will say in the second part, this is often the last thing we talk about. But that I mean we need to develop sufficient trust and intimacy.

This means we need help from the Lord. We need to pray, asking for grace, and exercise trust. We need to read the Word to hear God’s promises and warnings. We also need help from others, at least one other. They can speak those promises and warnings to us. They can hold our hand and weep with us as necessary.

“The goal is to become transparent and humble friends who are at ease with our neediness.”

As we become engaged in one another’s lives through mutual care the church moves forward. Welch reminds us that we have the Spirit to empower us in this mutual ministry. We don’t engage in this alone.

God moved toward us in our sin and misery. As we become like Him thru the gospel we begin to move toward others in their sin and misery. Moving toward them we begin to have thoughtful conversations. We don’t force them to open up, but display honest interest in them. It is basically just beginning a relationship and slowly deepening that relationship. This includes seeing the good in them, and enjoying them. This is done as we share stories, the stories that shaped us. Perhaps we ask some questions about those stories to understand more about how they responded or felt.

As the relationship deepens, you express compassion in trouble. Your theology of suffering will affect how you express compassion. One expression of compassion is prayer. We help one another become aware of Satan’s devices. Eventually you should be talking about sin and helping each other. These are two of the longer chapters.

Though we talk about our stories, Welch reminds us to connect them to the Story. Effective mutual ministry reconnects people to the Story. This means we need to know the Bible’s story line.

Caring for One Another: 8 Ways to Cultivate Meaningful Relationships By Edward T. Welch cover imageHow’s that for a brief summary of a brief book? Welch also has Caring for One Another which examines the material covered in the second section in a study guide.

I plan to use this book in my re-formatted officer training class. I want our officers to grow in mutual ministry so our members can begin to grow in mutual ministry. I want our officers to practice and model ministry to one another.

Unlike Instruments, this is not a long and complex book. Welch keeps it very simple so any church member can develop these mutual care relationships. To develop a good working knowledge of Scripture to address this sin & suffering you may want to add Mike Emlet’s Cross Talk: Where Life and Scripture Meet. Ed Welch gives us a great place to start.

 

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“A Church has no right to make anything a condition of membership which Christ has not made a condition of salvation.” A.A. Hodge

I came across this years ago when reading Hodge’s The Confession of Faith, a commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith. Note: he wrote this in a commentary on a confession of faith.

Since I’m currently putting together SS material on the Westminster Standards I saw the red ink underlining and exclamation points in the margin. John Calvin expresses similar sentiments in his chapter on The Power of the Church in The Institutes of the Christian Religion (1541). I decided to run an experiment. I put it on my FB page, and in a closed group I belong to connected to Calvinism. I was curious if there would be any difference in responses.

On my FB page, the response was overwhelmingly positive. There were a few questions, but no big deal.

In the group, it was overwhelmingly negative. There were a number of misinterpretations of the quote. People were fairly unreasonable. I know, shocking conduct on the internet.

Here is a sampling:

“I disagree. attendance and membership are two different things. …theology is as important as doxology.. we are there to preserve both.. as a group we draw lines in the sand.. as an open group we do not.

“…maybe we should eliminate membership and just gather together without running church like a business. … If you expect the rent/mortgage on your church’s building to be paid, your pastor to be paid, the facility clean and in good repair, and your favorite ministries to be funded, then yeah, church needs to have a business component to it. Some churches take that too far and forget they’re a church, but churches have to run like a business to some degree.”

I also disagree. The elders are responsible to guard the flock, and you can’t keep the wolves out if you just admit members indiscriminately. Membership lists also have a use in determining who is eligible for church discipline. Just because a person sits in the pews doesn’t mean the church has authority to discipline them.

I would not expect a Pentecostal to accept me as a member since I do not accept their core beliefs about how the Spirit works and manifests itself. There should be some basic doctrinal agreement and some kind of pledge to serve to be a member.

“In order to worship in unity you need to agree on some things that aren’t salvation essentials. I don’t doubt the salvation of my Presbyterian brethren even though I doubt the legitimacy of their baptizing infants. They don’t doubt my salvation either but they would view my refusal to baptize my kids before conversion as disobedience to Christ’s command. Baptism is definitely not an essential doctrine but is practically speaking pretty important in fellowship and worship. …Messianic Christians and seventh day Adventists worship on Saturday, and think we’re misinterpreting the New Covenant when we worship on Sunday. They probably don’t doubt our salvation and in many cases we don’t doubt theirs, but it’d be pretty difficult to worship together weekly because they wouldn’t want to gather on our day nor we on theirs.”

“Nobody has to attend our church regularly in order to be saved, nobody has to agree to our church’s confession and member’s covenant to be saved, even baptism is not a requirement in order to be saved. So obviously this statement as it appears is false. But I wonder if it is explained in context in a way that might show it to have a true meaning.

We see an avalanche of erroneous assumptions, worse-case scenarios and oddities marshaled to reject Hodge’s premise.

What does Hodge mean? What doesn’t he mean?

These words begin that paragraph:

“In all Churches a distinction is made between the terms upon which private members are admitted to membership, and the terms upon which office-bearers are admitted to their sacred trusts of teaching and ruling.”

Hodge is writing a commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith. He believes in the use of Confessions and Creeds. He believes churches should have and use a Confession of Faith. He held to the Westminster Confession.

So, Hodge is NOT arguing that churches shouldn’t have a confession.

Hodge recognizes the distinction between members and officers. Members are held to a higher standard. He is speaking of the Confession, not extra-biblical conditions (keep reading). The Confession must be accepted, and taught, by the leadership of the church.

What the quote is saying, in part, is that holding to (subscription) the Confession (or any confession) should not be a requirement of membership. There are some denominations, wanting to limit doctrinal controversy. I used to be a pastor in the ARP and the membership questions included: “Do you accept the doctrines and principles of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, for far as you understand them, as agreeable to and founded on the Word of God?”  A confusing qualifier to be sure. The URC requires membership subscribe to the Three Forms of Membership. I was surprised upon joining the PCA that there was no similar vow. Many wish there was one, but I tend to think there shouldn’t be.

This does not mean that Hodge didn’t think members didn’t have to believe anything. They had to believe anything necessary for saving faith. The Westminster Confession includes things necessary for saving faith, but has far more in there. The additional topics are for our well-being rather than our salvation. We should require faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as God incarnate & part of the Trinity, who died and rose again. We should also require repentance as well. And baptism as included in the Great Commission. In other words, as far as we can tell, comunicate members should be Christians.

The other thing Hodge is (may be) saying is that membership should not bind the conscience in any way not required for salvation. Some church membership vows include abstinence from alcohol, smoking or dancing. These are not requirements for salvation (or sanctification).

In speaking about “church constitutions” Calvin argues in this way:

“So we must rapidly conclude as we argued earlier that, where God is concerned, our consciences are in no way compelled or obligated by any such constitutions. Their aim is to bind our souls before Go and to lay duties upon us, as if the things which they commanded were essential for salvation. Such today are all those constitutions called ‘church constitutions which they say are necessary if God is to be truly honored and served. They are countless in number, and make for equally countless bonds which keep souls imprisoned.”

If you think it wise not to drink alcohol, or dance or have the occasional cigar, you are able and free to make that decision for yourself. What you are not free to do is to bind the conscience of others to the same extra-biblical command. No church is free to so bind the conscience of its members. The doctrine of Christian Freedom needs to be taught in churches so members won’t fight over these matters (like the discussions I’d had as a young Christian with people who hated Christian rock, or secular music). You don’t resolve the argument biblically by binding consciences. “So you won’t fight about a beer with your pizza, we’ll just prohibit drinking altogether.” Too many churches take this very route and sin against God and their members.

Back to Confessions. Church members should know that the church has a confession, and that the teaching of the church will conform to that confession. I cover this in our membership class. I give them a copy of the Westminster Standards.

Some members will already agree with the Confession. That’s great! But I hope that many members are younger Christians. We are not a Reformed refuge where you need the secret password (John Calvin Owen & Newton). I see holding to the Confession as one of the goals of my teaching. I want people to move toward the Confession, understand it better and increasingly affirm it as a summary of Scripture. We can’t demand that as a condition of membership, however. We should never say to a Christian, you can’t be a member here. We may say, this is what we teach. If you are willing to discover more about this great. But if you fight about it, this may not be where your membership should be. Just as we offer Christ’s Table, this is Christ’s church. We may be Presbyterians, but can’t restrict membership to Presbyterians. I want people to grow in & into their faith in my congregation.

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If you are like me your experience with and knowledge of Eastern Orthodoxy is limited. I grew up Catholic so I understand Roman Catholicism. To many Protestants the Eastern Church is quite mysterious. Rare are the books by Protestants about Eastern Orthodoxy. Robert Letham has written a good book to help people like me understand our brothers and sisters from the East. In this day, with increased persecution in places like Iraq and Syria we hear more about Eastern Orthodoxy. The vast majority of them are not Protestant but either Catholic or Eastern Orthodox.

Letham’s book, Through Western Eyes, is not a polemical book. His purpose is not to expose the errors of Eastern Orthodoxy. He does compare and contrast its teaching on various doctrines with both Roman Catholicism and Reformed Theology. Why just Reformed Theology (and a bit of Luthernism)? Like Roman Catholicism it is a confessional faith. Much of evangelicalism shuns creeds and confessions therefore exhibiting a wide variety of beliefs. Letham himself also comes from a Reformed perspective and therefore compares it to what he knows and loves best.

Letham structures the book in 3 sections: history, theology and evaluation. The third section is not very long. In it he seeks to point out areas where we could learn from them, where they could learn from us, gross misunderstanding and divergence.

The section on theology spends much of its pages dealing with the ecumenical councils. How they do theology is quite different than how we have done theology. Since the Scholastics and particularly since the Enlightenment theology in the West has been done in the universities, and not necessarily in the church. There have been numerous confessions and catechisms to lay out theology as well as many systematic theology books. Theology in the Eastern Church is grounded on the Councils (which we also affirm for the most part), communicated in their liturgy and is done mostly by church men: pastors and bishops. Their dependence on the creeds reflect their understanding of polity: there is no hierarchical structure. The Patriarchs do not function like archbishops or the Pope. How their theology developed is interesting, at least to me.

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Devotional books can be funny things. The author can have a sense of an overall purpose and flow which can be lost on the reader. Or perhaps the author doesn’t have a flow. John Piper has put together a few devotional books over the years and I have appreciated the ones I’ve read, particularly Life as a Vapor.

His latest, culled from various writings in other places is A Godward Heart: Treasuring the God Who Loves You. The stated theme is cultivating a Godward heart. It is tough to put pre-existing material into a book and expect it to fit a theme. In this case, I’m not sure the theme holds. Don’t get me wrong. There is some great material in this volume. It just doesn’t feel cohesive (yes, that is quite subjective.

The book begins in startling fashion with The Morning I Heard the Voice of God. At first you think he’s having some sort of charismatic experience (well, he is charismatic) but he’s talking about “hearing” God speak in the Scriptures (Ps. 66 in particular). It seems unnecessarily provocative, maybe. Piper wants to remind us that the real power to change us, the real words that should move us, are the Scriptures as the Spirit works in us to apply what Christ has done for us. A Godward heart is one that loves the Scriptures.

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I appreciated John Currid’s commentaries on Exodus (vol. 1 & vol. 2) when I preached through it a few years ago. He has others that I intend to purchase. I appreciated the dimension he adds with regard to archeology. A friend of mine went on a dig and tour of the Holy Land with him back in the late 90’s. He is not an ivy tower academic. He has gotten his hands dirty as an archeologist and a pastor (an ARP church in the Charlotte area).

His latest book, Against the Gods, is a good addition to a pastor and teacher’s library. In this book he examines the relationship between biblical texts and similar texts and stories from neighboring people. The main focus is on Egypt, but he includes a chapter on Canaanite mythology.

This is a big issue in academia. The issue is who influences whom? Many assume that the biblical writers borrow the stories from other cultures and “cut” the names of the other gods and “paste” in YHWH. As Currid notes, that is a way to look it. But he proposes a better way to understand what is going on: polemical theology. The idea is not that the biblical authors, usually Moses (though he seems reluctant to say that), stole their stories. The point is that God works in such a way as to reveal their gods are nothing and He is the real God they need to know.

“While Thompson may be considered radical in his views, the reality is that modern scholarship commonly views biblical history as invention and propaganda. In other words, it was written by post-exilic authors who had limited access to true historical resources.”

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Any conversation about homosexuality inevitably will turn to what the Bible says. There are bound to be many misunderstandings about what the Bible says, and attempts to say that it doesn’t really say what it says. This is where Peter Hubbard turns his attention in the 4th chapter of Love Into Light.

It is just a chapter, so it is a survey that focuses on a few key texts. There are whole books devoted to this singular topic. This is intended to hit the highlights.

“Real Bible study is an act of corporate execution as we die to our preferences and together stand in the counsel of the only Person Who embodies and defines life.”

Studying the Bible is painful for all of us because it doesn’t say what we wish it would. Each of us may have a different topic with which we disagree with the Bible. But, as he notes here we have to wrestle with it or we have made ourselves to be autonomous.

Many, like Matthew Vines, will accuse us of misinterpreting the Bible. They will accuse us of mishandling them to issue a blanket, absolute condemnation of something the Bible never condemns. I think Hubbard makes a good point about this.

“Who wants to misinterpret the Bible at the expense of hundreds of thousands of people who feel condemned to lives of shame and loneliness? Who has the time and the desire to dream up sexual prohibitions that God hasn’t created?”

In other words, those with whom we disagree seem to paint us in the worst possible light: homophobes, bigots etc. I understand the desire to avoid guilt and shame. I ran from God for awhile, wanting to enjoy activities that the Bible says are immoral. We all have those things, and they are pretty important to us at the time.

The first charge made is that the prohibitions against homosexuality were temporary. Some of the prohibitions are found in Leviticus with a number of other immoral sex acts (Leviticus 18). People like Jay Bakker and Jack Rogers say it was wrong for the Israelites, but not for us today. Jay, like many today, will point out that Leviticus mentions they shouldn’t eat shellfish, wear clothing made of wool and cotton, getting tattoos and other such far less important things. The argument is that we have evolved past things.

Okay, some of those things were about how Israel was set apart ceremonially from the nations around them. What you won’t find is a penalty for eating shellfish. At most, you wouldn’t participate in corporate worship as being ceremonially unclean.

The penalty for all those sexual acts (which they neglect to mention include incest and bestiality) is death. This are how Israel was set apart from the nations morally. This was a severe penalty. We are talking about two fundamentally different things. Are we to assume that we have evolved enough to say that incest and bestiality are okay too? Or are they the only permanent prohibitions in that exact context? See how misleading their argument is?

Hubbard argues (the above was mostly mine) that Jesus affirmed and fulfilled the Old Testament. He fulfilled the ceremonial laws in such a way as to render them obsolete (read Hebrews for example). He fulfilled the moral law for us, but not in a way that renders it obsolete. We see that the New Testament affirms the Old Testament prohibitions on numerous sexual sins, including homosexuality. That brings us to one of the controversial texts in this debate: 1 Corinthians 6:9.

That passage includes an original term by Paul- arsenkoite. It is a debated term, claimed to mean “male prostitute.” How does Hubbard respond? “The Apostle Paul coined this term from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. He was pointing back to Leviticus 18:22.”  It is the combination of arsenos  and koiten. It is not connected to rape, or prostitution, but of having intercourse with another man as if he were a woman. He is restating the OT prohibition against homosexuality.

Another claim is that the prohibitions are misunderstood. The claims regarding 1 Corinthians 6:9 is such a case. Another is Sodom and Gomorrah. They, supposedly, were judged for being inhospitable. Yes, they were that. But the original story in Genesis 19 makes clear that they wanted to engage in homosexual activity with the men. As Jude 7 notes, they were immoral. That it manifested itself in attempted homosexual rape is pertinent. Both Philo and Josephus interpret this to mean it refers to homosexual acts, not simply sexual violence.

A third claim is that such prohibitions are rooted in ignorance. Mel White is one man who puts this forth, as though the homosexuals then were very different from the loving, committed homosexuals today. This argument is a form of chronological arrogance, for there were committed gay and lesbian relationships in Paul’s day. It assumes we are more enlightened and wiser than those blood thirsty primitives. If only they understood that some are homosexual by nature. Romans 1, they claim, refers to those who are heterosexual but engage in homosexual activity. The point of Romans 1 is not to isolate homosexuality, but to show homosexuality as one of the results of exchanging the truth for a lie. Sin manifests itself in many ways, as Paul mentions in Romans 1. Homosexuality is one of them.

Others, like Luke Timothy Johnson, place our experience above Scripture. The commands of Scripture, he argues, are fallible. Paul was subject to his personal prejudices and preferences. It assumes that the Bible is merely a human document and that it also is fallible when it says that the Spirit inspired Scripture. The Scriptures are authoritative, my experience is not. I am to judge my experience by Scripture, not Scripture by my experiences.

In fact, it would appear that the claims are merely projections of their own arguments which take texts out of context, misunderstands the words used and are filled with ignorance of history as well as Scripture. If we have the opportunity to talk through these texts with a homosexual or an advocate for them, we can use the material here to address those concerns and show that the problem is not the Scriptures or our fundamentalist interpretation.

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In my second year of seminary, John Frame’s The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God became required reading in the first year. Oh, well. It has only taken me about 20 years to read the book.  I began to read it 2 years ago, I think, while I was home “watching” the kids while CavWife taught a group exercise class on Monday afternoons. Last year I spent that time studying and developing a curriculum for the Book of Revelation. Though I no longer watch the kids on Monday afternoons, I resumed reading the book this Fall as time permitted. It was worth the work.

The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (an interesting title) is the first in Frame’s A Theology of Lordship series, of which I have already read The Doctrine of God (Salvation Belongs to the Lord is a shorter version that is quite readable). The title of this book suggests the main concern of the book- how can we know God. This is a book about epistomology, the study of how we know. We often take this for granted and never think through it. Those presuppositions drive many of the debates and arguments we have with people. We often fall into bad argumentation (logical fallacies for instance).

“Our criteria, methods, and goals in knowing will depend on what we seek to know.”

Frame wants to examine our presuppositions, and argue for a presupposition understanding of how we know what we know and what we can know.  He starts with knowing God, as Calvin did in The Institutes of the Christian Religion. But he starts with God as Covenant Lord. As Covenant Lord, He made us to think and understand as receivers of revelation. As Covenant Lord, he determines what is revealed to us.

“We do not come to know God, or anything else, in a vacuum. … Still, one has to start somewhere; he cannot relate everything to everything else at once, for otherwise he would be God.”

He touches on subjects like transcendence (God as head of the covenant) and immanence (God’s nearness or involvement with creation), authority,  control and presence, knowability and incomprehensibility etc. He moves out of the theoretical at times to show how these tensions reveal themselves in theological debate, particularly the disagreement between Van Til and Clark. In other words, he examines many of the implications of the Creator-creature distinction.

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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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Systematic Theologies are not the most exciting reads.  Joshua Harris seeks to change that with his book Dug Down Deep: Building Your Life on Truths that Last. This is a systematic theology for the average person. Harris sticks to the essentials: doctrine of God, Christ, the Spirit, Scripture, Salvation, Sanctification and the Church.  For the most part he avoids controversial areas, though for some the essentials of the Christian faith can be controversial.

One thing that sets this apart from most (not all) books of this kind is that theology is not seen as abstract.  He begins with the notion, similar to John Frame, that truth is to be lived.  It is a foundation for our lives, providing stability in the storms of life (as Harris notes from the end of the Sermon on the Mount).

“Theology matters, because if we get it wrong, then our whole life will be wrong.”

Another thing that sets this apart from just about every systematic theology I’ve read is the use of narrative to explain or illustrate the importance of particular doctrines.  It is similar to the work his friend Don Miller has done, but not nearly as funny.  He even has a few hand-drawn illustrations in his section on sanctification.  So this is far more interesting than Berkof or just about any systematic theology.

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IMarrow of Modern Divinity  -     By: Edward Fisher
recently wrote a post on Gospel Pardon as part of my interaction with Edward Fisher’s The Marrow of Modern Divinity.  That book is about the errors of both legalism and antinomianism.  In that post I mentioned Andrew Farley’s The Naked Gospel which I had read and reviewed earlier this year ( Part 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 with increasing frustration).  He has what I consider to be extreme views based on a hyper-dispensationalistic hermeneutic.  We engaged in an on-line discussion where it became increasingly clear to me that we were talking past each other as a result of our very different approaches to interpreting Scripture.

While I thought I was ending communication he left one last ginormous comment.  So, I’ll use that comment to have one last installment of our discussion.  If you have questions about the relationship of the OT and NT, law and gospel, and what really is the rule of life for Christians you may find some interesting points made here.  Then again ….

Thanks for this! It’s been fun to dialogue. The ideas you are presenting are familiar to me, but it has been good practice for me to think about which Scriptures to share. In this post, I will clarify that:

1. the New Covenant was put into effect at Jesus’ death (Hebrews 9:16-17)

This is not at issue at all.  What is at issue is the relationship between the Old Covenant and New Covenant.  Both the Old and New Covenants were manifestations of the Covenant of Grace (Live & Do This).  As we will note later, some treated the Old Covenant as if it was the Covenant of Works (Do this & live).  As John Piper notes, “The flesh turns the law into a ladder.”  As people born in Adam (Romans 5), we are under the covenant of works.  As a result the Law works death in us since we are sinners.  But even the Mosaic covenant was given to redeemed people.  It was not given for them to earn life, but to manifest life.  All who believe in the promises of God (keeping in mind the progressive nature of revelation, we know more than Abraham) are under the Covenant of Grace.  This why Hebrews 4:2 says they (the wilderness generation) had the gospel preached to them.  The gospel is not only in the New Covenant.  In fact, Paul often uses OT figures to explain the truth of the gospel.  For instance, Paul quotes Ps. 32 about the bliss of forgiveness/justification in Romans 4.  You’ll note it is not tied to the sacrificial system but his confession of sin as the instrumental means (this after David had been a believer for years- gospel pardon!)

The Old and New Covenants are not identical though.  There was real progress, and the issue in Hebrews was a temptation to leave the newer, better covenant for the Old Covenant, which at that point in the history of redemption (and now) amounts to apostasy.

2. Jesus was born under Law (Galatians 4:4) and his audience was too (Galatians 4:4) and Jesus expanded on the Law (Matthew 5:21-48).

Yes, Jesus redeems all those under the Law as a Covenant of Works.  He does this in 2 ways.  First, he perfectly fulfilled the law as our Substitute.  Second, he suffered the curse of the law as our Substitute (Galatians 3).

3. The Lord’s Prayer teaches a conditional forgiveness (“as we forgive others”) while in contrast Colossians 3:13 and Ephesians 4:32 teach the opposite (unconditional forgiveness) after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

I’m not so sure it teaches conditional forgiveness.  But if it did … think about who is teaching this.  Am I to disregard anything the Eternal Son of God in flesh teaches?  In your hermaneutic, yes.  In a biblical one?  No.  We find no basis for this, unless we do violence to 2 Timothy 3 as you have done by neglecting ALL that Paul says the law is useful for.

In fact, the Great Commission (given AFTER his death & resurrection!!) includes the instruction to “teach them to obey EVERYTHING I have commanded you.”  That would seem to include how to pray from earlier in that same gospel.

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Since I was preparing to fly out to Tucson to be examined for transfer to the Southwest Presbytery of the PCA, I was not at the called Synod meeting regarding Erskine.  I still have many close friends in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.  I still want the ARP to prosper.  But, I am not up on all the “in”s and “out”s of this matter.  (Dr. William Vandoodewaard -how’s that for a good Dutch name- has a short summary of the actions and responses to date.)

I have sat in many a Synod meeting prior to this discussing matters pertaining to Erskine.  I know many have a great desire to see Erskine reflect the commitments of the ARP as a Reformed and Evangelical denomination.

Perhaps a bit of history is in order.  In the 50’s and 60’s many in the ARP had fallen under the spell of neo-orthodoxy.  The seminary had been compromised.  But men from seminaries like Reformed, Westminster and Covenant were entering the denomination.  In the 70’s the problem came to a head in the battle over Scripture.  The historical Reformed view of Scripture was affirmed, and the neo-orthodox view was rejected.

But a denominational statement does not instantly change the minds of men.  Some held to their views, and some of those men remain in the denomination today.  There were no witch hunts.  Most of those who held a more neo-orthodox view of Scripture and theology have retired or are close to retiring.  It would appear that Erskine seems to represent this fading minority more than the traditional majority.  Like most evangelical colleges, they use “academic freedom” to embrace ideas unbiblical ideas.  Institutions tend to drift left over time.  That is, unless they have a group of people who call them back to orthodoxy.  (Erskine professor Bill Evans has a great article on how misrepresentations of inerrancy have run rampant to stir up fear.)

This is a rare thing.  The ARP and the SBC are the only two groups I know of who have moved left and then moved back to the right.  It is never done without kicking and screaming.  I visited Southern Baptist Theological Seminary shortly after Al Mohler became the President.  I was considering a Ph.D.  at the time.  The students were angry, fearing that SBTS would be destroyed.  The old, established faculty seemed to resent him.

Erskine is going through the same fear, the same concern.  The status quo is being challenged.  People feel alienated, as though their understanding of the faith is being questioned.  In some cases that is true.  But Erskine is not an independent institution.  It is part of the ARP and under its authority.  It continues to receive funds from the ARP.  It is being loved by the ARP, and they are trying to love it well.  But since kinder, gentler means have gone unsuccessful, these more drastic measures are a kind of tough love.  In this day and age such love is not welcomed but resisted.  After all, isn’t this part of our fallen human nature?

If you have time, pray for Erskine and the ARP.  They need a new President (and Philip Ryken would have been a great choice if he hadn’t already gone to Wheaton).  It will take a strong man, a principled yet gracious man to make the changes that are necessary to make Erskine representative of the views of the ARP.  Sadly this problem distracts the ARP from considering the cause of the gospel and the health of its congregations.  But, by the grace of God, Erskine may once again strengthen the ARP and help them fulfill the great commission.

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Part 3 of The Naked Gospel by Andrew Farley is called Crossing the Line.  I thought he’d cross it, and he did.  The section is essentially on his hermeneutic (or method of interpretation).  He crossed the line into what I think is a very bad place.

The matter of interpretive method is very important.  Most false teaching arises from a faulty method of interpretation.  It is Farley’s faulty method of interpretation that gives birth to the various errors in his teaching (and the strange theories he foists upon us to float some of them).

By now you are probably thinking- “get to it already”.  If you are, this is how I often feel when I listen to Glen Beck.  He also has some hermeneutical issues when it comes to theology, but I digress even further.

Farley embraces a view I have only found among hyper-dispensationalists (I’m not saying he’s a hyper-dispensationalist, just that his hermeneutic is very similar).  It is that the new covenant did not come into effect until the cross & resurrection, so (and this is the odd part) the gospels are not part of the New Testament proper.  They are written to Jews, not Christians, so Jesus’ words there are not binding upon us in any way.  The Old Testament is instructive to understand our sinfulness and how God would eventually save sinners.  But the Old Testament is not to be used as a guide for life in any way, shape or form.  We find “a thorough background in how God initiated a relationship with humankind and how we did whatever we could to ruin this relationship.”

In my previous post I forgot to interact with his material on 2 Timothy 3.  But it fits in here very well.  He quotes 2 Timothy 3:16-17, but I’ll put a few more verses in there for context.

14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it,  15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,  17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.  (NIV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I first read Eugene Peterson’s book Working the Angles: the Shape of Pastoral Integrity in the mid-90’s.  I read all of his books on pastoral ministry, finding them helpful.  A decade in to pastoral ministry, and preparing for my next call, I decided to read it again.

I found that while the book hadn’t changed, I had.  I fully agree with Peterson’s main point that pastors have largely abandoned their calling for a substitute, a counterfeit that undermines the work of God.  I also fully agree with the tasks of pastoral ministry being largely prayer, Scripture and spiritual direction.

Where I am not so on board is how he gets there.  He draws from sources  that I am at time uncomfortable with.  I’m not a TR.  I read books, and benefit from them, that are outside of the Reformed heritage.  I read Nouwen, a Kempis and other devotional writers.  I’m interested in reading de Sales as well.  But the bulk of my significant reading is within one stream of thought.

Peterson pulls from Greek mythology, neo-orthodox authors and devotional writers.  He does not often ground his thoughts in Scripture, which is odd since that is one of his 3 angles.  I think I only found one reference to a Puritan, who have written numerous volumes on prayer, Scripture and the need for soul friends (aka spiritual directors).  This I find to be a glaring weakness.

So, while Peterson’s book is helpful, it is less helpful than perhaps it could have been.  This is sad, because we do need more books that focus on shepherding people, not treating pastors as CEOs.

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A friend of mine just started a new position with a church.  The Sr. Pastor wanted him to read Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity by Eugene Peterson.  So, I lent him my copy.  He just gave it back, and I decided to re-read it.  It has been nearly a decade since I read this book.  I’ve enjoyed his books on ministry in the past.  It will be interesting to see what 9 years in the trenches will do to shape my view of them now.

Today I read the introduction during a slow spot in the ER.  Though written over 20 years ago, his words of warning still ring true.

Peterson believes that most pastors have left their post, “whoring after other gods.”  He relates meetings with other pastors when they discuss, not the difficulties of staying close to God and helping others until Christ is formed in them, but numbers and programs. 

“The pastors of America have metamorphosed into a company of shopkeepers, and the shops they keep are churches.  They are preoccupied with shopkeeper’s concerns- how to keep customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package the good so that the customers will lay out more money.”

 We have fallen prey to the mindset of consumerism and marketing.  He then quotes Martin Thornton:

“A walloping great congregation is fine, and fun, but what most communities need is a couple of saints.  The tragedy is that they may well be there in embryo, waiting to be discovered, waiting for sound training, waiting to be emancipated from the cult of the mediocre.”

That really is the joy of ministry, discovering those who long to be godly and serve others.  And then to invest in them and see them grow (with ups and downs).  For me it wasn’t so exciting to kick off a new program.  But to see someone “get it” or make some great strides in growth really stoked me.

“The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches.  There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world.  The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them.  In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor and given a designated responsibility in the community.  The pastor’s responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God.  It is this responsibility that is being abandoned in spades.”

Yeah, I can see that all around me.  People expect the glitz and sparkle.  But the reality, helping people listen to God … not so much in demand these days.   Most pastors are doing what they need to do to remain gainfully employed.  Richard Pratt used to remind us often, “If you earn your living from your faith, you’ll lose either your living or your faith.”  If you keep your faith, and live it out, not many churches will really be interested in you.  But if you stop living by biblical convictions, you may have a tough time finding a church willing to listen.  Some might say this is what I tell myself so I’ll sleep at night.  But I heard plenty of stories from other guys- many a church wants a CEO or entrepenour, not a pastor.

“The visible lines of pastoral work are preaching, teaching, and administration.  The small angles of this ministry are prayer, Scripture, and spiritual direction.”

Peterson’s point in the introduction is that these angles can be faked.  “We can impersonate a pastor without being a pastor.”  We can fool people that we are the real deal, at least for awhile.  Peterson’s book is about developing an attentiveness to God so you can help others be attentive to Him through prayer, Scripture and spiritual direction (individual and corporate).  He’s trying to move pastors back into a spiritual reality we never should have left.

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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.”

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With my Presbytery exam tomorrow- here is some more stuff to chew on.

 

Chapter XIII: Of Sanctification

132. Define sanctification? It is a free grace of God whereby we are made to die more and more to sin and live more and more to righteousness.

133. What means does God use in sanctification?  God uses the means of Scripture, sacraments, prayer, providence and the other members of the Body in sanctification.

134. In what sense is the believer sanctified in this life?  We are sanctified progressively but imperfectly.  We will make real progress as our struggle with sins shifts from surface sins to heart sins.  We are often more aware of our sin as a result, and more aware of our need for Christ.

135. Why is sanctification a work and not an act?  It is not accomplished through an instantaneous blessing, but is a process with many ups and downs.  This keeps us humble and dependent upon Christ.

136. Distinguish sanctification from justification?  Justification is an act & perfect involving our position before God- we are declared righteous; sanctification is a process and imperfect until glorification involving our persons before God- we become like Christ.  Justification is the basis for our sanctification.

137. How does the law of God relate to our sanctification? The law of God continues to reveal our sin that we might repent, and reveals what pleases God.  It has no power to change our behavior- that power comes from the Spirit who leads us into greater obedience.

138. Who is the sole author or sanctification?  God who works in us through the Holy Spirit

139. What is perfectionism? What are its expressions today? Perfectionism is the erroneous teaching that we can achieve a state, in this life, in which we know longer sin (often deemed consciously).  It is often seen as a second blessing.  It is expressed today in theologies that minimize the sinfulness of sin by focusing on outward manifestations of sin- the holiness movements, Pentecostalism.

140. Distinguish a Reformed view of sin from other views.  In the Reformed view sin is an inward orientation to worship idols rather than the one, True God.  Sins proceed from our corrupt nature (sin because we’re sinners).  In other views, sins are seen as corrupting us (sinners because we sin).  It is largely externalized and manageable as a result.

141. Distinguish progressive and definitive sanctification.  Definitive sanctification occurs as an aspect of our conversion where we are positionally sanctified as belonging to God.  Progressive sanctification is the process in which we become more like Christ experientially.

142. In what way, if at all, is sanctification by grace?  It is all of grace (Galatians 3)- Christ works in us by the Spirit to apply the work of redemption to us.

143. What is the believer’s role in sanctification?  Our role is to make use of the means of grace by faith- trusting God to work in us to accomplish His sanctifying work.

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Here are my answers to the study notes as I prepare for my oral exam next week.  I thought some people might be interested in the types of things I must know.  Since there are over 300 questions, I’ll go chapter by chapter through the Westminster Confession of Faith.  Please …. I’m not putting them up to debate issues.  I recognize that not all Christians will agree on these matters.  It may not represent your doctrinal standards, but it is mine.  If you think I misunderstood the Confession of Faith, I’m open to correction as long as you keep in mind that perhaps you have misunderstood the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Chapter I: Of The Holy Scriptures

1. Distinguish between “general” and “special” revelation.  “General” revelation is available to all men everywhere.  The creation declares God’s invisible attributes (Ps. 19, Rom. 1).  “Special” revelation is the Scriptures.

2. Is general revelation clear? Is it authoritative? Is it sufficient? To what end?  “General” revelation is clear, and it is authoritative.  It is sufficient only that we may know that God exists.  Our sinful nature distorts and twists “general” revelation such that people either deny there is a God or they worship a false god.  It is insufficient for us to know how we may be saved.  As a result, it is sufficient to condemn us.

3. According to the Confession, why are the Scriptures necessary? They are necessary that we might know what we are to believe concerning God and what duty He requires of us.  They are necessary due to the lies and attacks of the flesh, Satan and the world against God and truth.

4. What are the four attributes of Scripture and what is meant by them?  Authority, sufficiency, infallible, & clarity.  The Scriptures have authority on all matters to which they speak because they are God’s Word to us. They are sufficient in that they tell us all we need to know for our salvation and life of godliness.  They are infallible meaning they are fully reliable and not deceived or deceiving.  Clarity means that all that we need to know is clearly expressed.  Non-essential matters are less clear.

5. What is meant by the Scripture’s self attestation?   Scripture itself teaches that God is its author.

6. Describe for us your understanding of inerrancy?  The original manuscripts contain no errors or falsehoods, therefore Scripture is reliable.

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I just finished Faithful God: An Exposition of the Book of Ruth by Sinclair Ferguson.  I wish I had had this book when I preached through Ruth in the Spring of 2007 (chap. 1, chap. 2, chap. 3, chap. 4).  Originally given as a series of addresses presented to the English Conference of the Evangelical Movement of Wales back in 1996, he was asked to adapt them into written form.  It took some time, but he ‘just happened’ to come across his disk of the material and finished the project.

This exposition is neither overwhelming to the lay person or too simplistic for the pastor looking for substance.  As usual, Dr. Ferguson is like a mother bird, digesting difficult material and regurgitating it for the benefit of the average person.  He does not avoid, nor get mired in, Hebrew and the historical background.  There is enough to make his points clear, and not so much you lose that point.

Ruth is a story of grace and providence; or put another way how God graciously acts for His glory and our good in providence.  Ruth, Naomi and Boaz aren’t sure what God is doing until after the fact.  The same is true for us as well.  We are often prideful and presumptuous, thinking we know what God is doing.  But His purposes are not crystal clear until after the fact- sometimes LONG after the fact.  In this case, the little romance is cute but meaningless until we see that first David and then many generations later Jesus himself are the purposes God has in view as He works to bring Ruth to Himself by faith, into Israel and eventually into the home of Boaz.

There is much to chew on here if you are in the midst of a difficult providence.  But I get ahead of myself.  He begins with an introduction that points us to 2 Timothy 3:16-17.  On the basis of this passage, and its context, he says we should always ask ourselves 4 questions:

  1. What does it teach us?
  2. In what areas of our lives does it rebuke us?
  3. What healing, restoring, transforming effect does this teaching have?
  4. How does this section of Scripture equip me to serve Christ better?

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It was very strange not going to Synod this year.  It was the first I’ve missed since my first as a new pastor in 1999.  I chose not to be certified to vote as a pastor w/out call.

I’ve talked to a few of my fellow Presbyters about what happened in my absence.  Tonight I came across Dr. William Evans’ articleabout this unordinary meeting of Synod.  Apparently he has been busy, since he also has a piece there about Peter Enns’ book Inspiration and Incarnation.  He simply lays out so problems with the book.  But on to Synod where the issue of inspiration arose.

For the first time in years, more than one person was nominated to be Moderator of Synod.  It is interesting on a number of levels.  One, Barry Dagenhart, has deep roots in the ARP and would probably affirm the status quo and put a big priority on relationships.  The other, Dr. J.R. DeWitt, is a relative newcomer to the ARP (more recently than yours truly), but Drs. Evans, R.J. Gore and Sinclair Ferguson believed that his theological acumen are vitally important as the ARP addresses some important issues.  He would not maintain the status quo, and is quite fearful of a top-heavy denomination (which the ARP cannot be accused of having with any seriousness).

I agree that a man with theological acumen, and who will not seek to preserve the status quo but rather move us into the future, is greatly needed.  I’d humbly disagree with Sinclair Ferguson that Dr. DeWitt is that man.  One of the great things about the ARP, which I’ve needed to have modeled to me, is the emphasis on love as well as truth.  Our pursuit of truth must be done in love and hopefully preserve the relationships that already exist.  My experience with the Dr., limited as it is to debate on the floor of Synod, would make me hesitate in applauding his election as Moderator.  While I may side with him theologically, I fear that the price of winning the debate may be too great.  I really hope I’m wrong. 

I would like us to take our theology more seriously, and build stronger relationships with other conservative Reformed denominations.  We do need to repent of our in-grown ways.  But that is a product of spritual renewal.  I want us to be more than well-connected with the PCA, OPC et al.  I want us to grapple with the call to be missionaries to this culture and our communities.  I don’t sense that winsome, missionary spirit with Dr. DeWitt.  I think we had the right motives but not the best choice, if that makes sense.  Mark Ross probably would have been a better choice, but convincing him to serve would probably be difficult.

Regarding Scripture, 3 different motions were approved to strengthen our stance on the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture.  Since we are in the process of revising our Form of Government it is important that new ministers understand and affirm these things lest we drift off to the left over time.  Without these fundamental commitments, our ability to properly address the theological issues before us becomes weak and suspect.  To include these affirmations in the ordination vows, and as standards for Synod employees, is what was missing from our affirmation of these truths over 2 decades ago.

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