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Posts Tagged ‘wrath’


In the book blurbs C.J. Mahaney (please don’t make DeYoung guilty by association based on what you think or suspect Mahaney has done) notes:

“I’m sure this will be the best book on the Heidelberg Catechism I’ve ever read. I know it will be the first.”

Sadly I think this would apply to most American Christians. Most have probably never even heard of the Heidelberg Catechism (HC), much less a book on it. While my own denomination holds to the Westminster Confession of Faith, we hold the HC in high esteem as an expression of Reformed Theology. Each has their strengths. One of the strengths of the HC is its pastoral tone (the Westminster is more theological in tone, thought it does express some pastoral concerns) and it’s structure. It is not structured like a systematic theology but is structured largely around the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer. It uses these three as guides to instruct us in basic theology and Christian living. It was designed for children but is suitable for adults. The questions are broken into 52 sections so the whole catechism is covered in the span of a year.

“We need the gospel to remind us that we are still practicing sinners whose only hope for both eternal life and today’s blessings from God are ‘Jesus’ blood and righteousness.'” Jerry Bridges in the Foreward

The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism was taken from Kevin DeYoung’s weekly articles in the church newsletter. This is an introduction to the HC so the chapters are not long or exhaustive. Don’t mistake that for shallow or superficial. DeYoung usually does a good job of identifying the main points he must stress in a given week. He is not overly technical, so less theologically-oriented or experienced Christians can understand and benefit from what he has to say about the HC.

DeYoung properly notes that the structure of the HC is important (as does Bridges in the Foreward: guilt => grace => gratitude). He brings this up when talking about the Law. The purpose of the Law for Christians is to show us the way of gratitude, how we please God and what it looks like to become like Christ. As Israel receive the Law AFTER being redeemed from Egypt, we must remember that as Christians we have already been redeemed and do not seek to redeem ourselves by our obedience. This is not just an Old Testament idea, but as Bridges notes it is also the pattern of Romans (and Paul’s other general letters).

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In this barren wasteland of books on the Trinity there are only a few oases out there. If you believe Michael Reeves, and I suspect you should, this is thanks to Schleiermacher who basically treated the Trinity as extraneous to Christianity. In Michael Reeves’ Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith he treats the Trinity as the hub upon which all of Christianity turns. That is part of what makes this particular volume on the Trinity unique. He explicitly states and develops this as a steady drumbeat in the book.

“For God is triune, and it is as triune that he is so good and desireable.”

In part, the book is an apologetic for Christianity in general and the Trinity in particular. He spends some time examining what happens if you don’t have a Trinity, what does that mean about God. To put it simply, God is not love. He is wanting a creation, if he wants a creation that serves him. But if God is love, and there are more than 3 persons in this eternal community of love we understand creation (and redemption) as an overflow of the love they have for one another. This sets Christianity into a different light, a greater light.

“Before he ever created, before he ever ruled the world, before anything else, this God was a Father loving his Son.”

For instance, love is the motive for the mission of God. I am currently reading a book on that subject and the author of this otherwise good book seems to neglect this as the reason. He’s not seeing the mission as the Father sending the Son to adopt more children, but more a Creator wanting to be obeyed. This focus on God as loving community helps to clear the air of many misconceptions and present a more winsome Christianity.

“He creates as a Father and he rules as a Father; and that means the way he rules over creation is most unlike the way any other God would rule over creation.”

For instance, in the last chapter he explores how this focus influences how we view various attributes of God. God’s holiness, for instance, is that he is separate from us in that he loves. In Leviticus 19, he reminds us, that the call to be holy, or perfect, as he is is surrounded by the command to love your neighbor as yourself and explanations of what that looks like (caring for the poor, for instance). So our holiness is not to be mere obedience. Our holiness is to be a love that reaches out to others as God has reached out to us in order to meet the needs of others. Oh, there is obedience but as Jesus said in John’s Gospel this is because love Him who first loved us.

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I have a growing number of books on humility. I have already read Mahaney’s Humility: True Greatness, Mack’s Humility: the forgotten virtue, and Henry’s The Quest for Meekness and Quietness of Spirit. But like books on love, I feel compelled to have more books on the subject. That is probably a reflection of my weakness and sin- I struggle with pride and loving others well. They pretty much go together. Humility is no small thing, according to Jonathan Edwards.

In Charity and Its Fruits he usually points to pride as the root cause of the sin we commit that is contrary to love. Love, he says, promotes humility which moves us to love others well.

“Humility disposes men to be of a yielding spirit to others, ready, for the sake of peace, and to gratify others, to comply in many things with their inclinations, and to yield to their judgments wherein they are not inconsistent with truth and holiness. A truly humble man is inflexible in nothing but the cause of his Lord and Master, which is the cause of truth and virtue.”

So, the latest book I’ve read on humility is William Farley’s Gospel-Powered Humility. His book is different from Mack and Mahaney’s books. He notices our society’s aversion to humility. He notices the lack of humility producing messages in our churches. His conviction is that the gospel produces humility in those who hear in faith.

“When we assume the gospel and pursue its fruits, the fruits eventually displace the gospel and all that remains is ‘moralism.'”

I agree with him. We have no hope for humility apart from the gospel. He is essentially seeking to correct an imbalance in contemporary preaching which tends to avoid the ugly truth about our sinfulness and God’s judgment. These, he says, should be part of what humbles us.

“Humility is the fertilizer that nourishes our soul and makes us fruitful.”

Since it is a counter-balance it does seem to err on the opposite end. Keep in mind I’ll be preaching on Colossians 1:21-23 this Sunday which points to our utterly sinful condition which necessitated Christ’s atonement. I’m not saying we don’t preach the hard and ugly truths (though I would say that God’s justice is beautiful to a redeemed and sanctified mind). Farley focuses on those hard truths with chapters on the wrath of God, the final judgment and the sinfulness of sin. His chapter on the history of preaching also focuses on how these hard truths helped break up the hard soil of the heart so gospel seed could grow.

“Here is the great paradox: the proud man thinks he is humble, but the humble man thinks he is proud.”

I wanted to read more chapters like his chapter on faith alone. I wanted to see how the positive aspects of the gospel also humble us. That’s because I believe they do. So, what Farley presents us is not wrong. I’d just say it was a bit incomplete.

“Jesus received the humbling that our constant and unremitting self-exaltation merits.”

He does include chapters on the fear of man and the power of a humble leader. Those help round out the book, showing some of the practical results of pride and humility.

“God designed salvation to deeply humble me, to crush my pride, and to transfer my grounds for positive self-image from self to God.”

Farley is highly dependent upon the Puritans (not a bad thing). His theology is solid. I just found it hard reading at times because of the emphasis on wrath, judgement and our sinfulness. Let me explain.

While not yet a pastor, I heard a sermon on Romans 3. The pastor was seeking to “reform” the church and was making his way through Romans. I had high anticipations as he’d lay out total, or radical, depravity to the people. It was about 1/3 our sinfulness and it seemed to me like he rushed to the good news too quickly. The people needed to wrestle with the reality of the bad news. He seemed to move too quickly.

“Sin shrouds our thoughts in mental darkness, rendering true belief in God humanly impossible.”

It can sound like Farley is wanting us to move too slowly. I admit that is completely subjective. But when I see the 4 main chapters and 3 of them are on the “bad news” …. Like I said, I wish there was a greater focus on how the doctrine of sanctification, in addition to justification, continues to humble us.

But Farley is right- too often this part of the gospel is greatly neglected today. Many “pastors” on TV completely ignore this. It is the result of the fear of man, liberalism, bad theology and a host of other reasons (though Farley argues that liberal theology is the result of the fear of man). Most people don’t need more self-esteem. They need a good dose of gospel humility. As I tell my kids & congregation:

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 1 Peter 5

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A few years ago I came across The Great Work of the Gospel: How We Experience God’s Grace by John Ensor.  It intrigued me.  John works in establishing pregnancy centers worldwide.  He lives in Boston as well.  So for years I’ve been meaning to buy and read this book.  Something always seemed to be more important at the time.  Until recently.  I picked up a copy about 2 months ago and decided to read it since I was beginning a series on the atonement for Lent.

I’m sorry I waited, but the book was timely in light of the whole Rob Bell thing.  The Christian should treat grace like a scientist treats gravity: not merely accepting its reality, but want to understand its totality.  As recipients of grace, we explore grace that our hearts might be more captured by it and more grateful for it.  To adapt an old saying, unexamined grace isn’t worth having.  This is because to understand grace is to understand Christianity.  How can you be a Christian without wanting to understand it?

“The grace of God that forgives us changes us. … The grace of God wounds our pride but then increases our confidence.  When God forgives, he exposes the most shameful things only to then cleanse them all from our conscience.”

Let’s stop for a moment.  Some personal context to lay my cards on the table.  I grew up Catholic.  I have a Ph.D. in guilt: true and false.  I am a recovering Pharisee who couldn’t keep his own high standards, much less God’s.  There are MANY things I don’t want you to know about me.  There are things only a privileged (and I use that term loosely) know about me.

But I have no interest in cheap grace, or cheap forgiveness.  I’m not trying to ignore God’s standards.  Neither is Ensor following the fashion of the day.  He structures the book on the topic of the Great Work.  When we own up to our guilt, we desire forgiveness and grace.  But if we never own up to guilt, then grace seems pretty much irrelevant.  In all of the chapters, Ensor examines a variety of biblical texts and addresses numerous misconceptions.  In the chapter on desiring grace, for instance, he tackles self-esteem and the reality of the conscience.

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I am currently reading (among other books) The Great Work of the Gospel by John Ensor.  In proclaiming the greatness of God’s work for our salvation, John takes a very different approach than Rob Bell.  Bell, during his Sex God tour, talked about how God was not angry with sinners, but sinners only seemed to think he was.  Bell’s upcoming book seems to allude that God is not an angry God.

Ensor, on the other hand, spends a chapter on the great need for the great work of the gospel.  He focuses there on the justice of God’s judgment, or the reality of God’s wrath.

11 God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses his wrath every day.  Psalm 7

In one of his sermons on Colossians 3, Matt Chandler distinguishes between God’s active and passive wrath.  His active wrath is clearly seen in judgment upon nations and people.  Think the flood, or Sodom and Gemorrah.  His passive wrath, as noted in Romans 1, is to give us over to our own dark desires.  He gives us over to the sin we love that it might ruin us.  Then, some of us cry out for mercy.

Ensor notes that the frequency with which the Bible speaks of God’s wrath should lead us to some startling conclusions.

“Either our sin and guilt is far, far greater than we ever knew, or God’s punishment far, far exceeds the crime.”

If God is just (and He is), then the latter proposition is not the case.  In other words, our sin and guilt are far greater than we ever imagined.  As Anselm noted to Boso, “You have not yet considered how great the weight of sin is.”  We need only look to the cross to discover the greatness of sin and guilt.  Our perception is off, by a large margin.  Instead of seeking mercy, we tend to excuse, overlook and ignore our sin and guilt.

Ensor, like Chandler, brings Romans 1 into the picture.  Our sin suppresses the clearly seen truth about God and his invisible attributes revealed in creation.  We exchanged the real God for any number of fake gods in creation: the Creator for the created.  We have turned our backs on God, and sought life in a wide variety of created goods- sex, money, family, music, food…

Hulk Smash!

Ensor reveals the compatibility of love and anger.  The sermon by Chandler, and one by Tim Keller, takes the same approach.  We tend to think of love and anger opposed to one another.  But anger is the proper response to a threat against that which is loved.  God hates sin because sin threatens to destroy creation, and people.  In the most recent version of The Hulk, the Hulk’s rage is greatest when the woman he loves is in danger.  Wrath seeks to eliminate the threat.  Sinful anger is sinful, in part, because it takes out more than the threat.  It adopts a scorched earth policy.  But love must get angry when the object of love is threatened.  If you don’t get angry when your spouse (or child) is physically or sexually assaulted, you don’t love them.

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