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Softly and Tenderly, Jesus Is Calling

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The Debt Has Been Paid

HT: The French Revolution

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Hope and Change and the Promises of God

What hath Whittaker Chambers to do with “Hope and Change”?

What hath communism and secular liberalism to do with the promises of God in the Bible?

What do racial equality and diversity, environmentalism, peace in our time, provision for all, the hope of socialism, the goals of liberalism, and the aims of all politicians have to do with Christianity?

On Sunday, November 20, 2011, it was my privilege to address “Hope and Change and the Promises of God” at Providence Baptist Church in Pasadena, TX.

This was an overtly evangelistic, gospel sermon. This was a sermon aimed at unbelievers pleading with them to embrace Christianity.

May the Lord be pleased to call many to himself.

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Jonathan Edwards as a Missionary

Insightful article by Jonathan Gibson in the latest issue of Themelios, looking at how Edwards viewed his mission to the American Indians, how he adapted his preaching to the new context, and how he pursued “social justice”!

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The Grand Canyon with Canyon Ministries and Answers in Genesis

For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to visit the Grand Canyon.

In the mercy and kindness of God, I got to go on a trip for Christian Leaders with my good friends Andy Naselli and Jason Derouchie, and I have definitive proof that my new friendship with Mike Wittmer has changed his life.

A few logistics and some stray comments before I attempt to combine words to get across the four big things I want to say about the trip: The expedition was made financially possible by Answers in Genesis, Canyon Ministries, and The Master’s Seminary. I don’t know who the donors were (each of us received a $3,300 scholarship), but I hereby register my gratitude for their generosity.

Let me also say that if you’re looking for a way to contribute financially to a Bible teacher or Christian leader having a great time on the river with Christian brothers discussing the age of the earth, the flood, and the Canyon, this is a great cause.

Or, if you’re looking for an exciting and educational vacation, why not plan a trip through the Canyon? You won’t find a better guide than Tom Vail of Canyon Ministries. The man knows where to find a shaded campsite, how to run a rapid, how to explain the Canyon’s geology, how to relate to all kinds of people, and even how to cook a birthday cake down there on the river. I’ve heard he catches rattle-snakes if they enter camp (seriously–thankfully no need to this time), and the power of the gospel is heard in his testimony and seen in his actions. Go to the Canyon Ministries website to book your trip.

We entered the river at Lees Ferry, and we helicoptered out 190 miles later, just past Lava Falls. I had never ridden in a helicopter. I had never been white water rafting. I had never been to the Grand Canyon. I had never slept under the open heavens–no tents necessary with no bugs and clear skies. I never imagined I would eat so well on a rafting trip.

I had no idea the Colorado River was so cold–47 degrees–and wouldn’t have expected bathing and doing laundry in it to be so easy (ok, it took a couple days to get used to the shiver-inducing cold of the water). Nor could I have imagined that the Little Colorado River would look like the clear blue waters of the Caribbean, or that flash flooding upriver could make the water of the Colorado look like Chocolate Milk. Willy Wonka would be proud.

I had no idea that the connections between the geological evidence about the formation of the Canyon and the Genesis flood were so strong.

I’m hoping to go back with my wife and kids (once they get old enough) and as many other family members as possible.

My four big take-aways from the trip have to do with the immensity and beauty of the Canyon, the relationships strengthened and formed, the power of the flood, and the joy of homecoming.

Immensity and Beauty

If you want to feel small, high thee up on that ledge above Deer Creek Falls that leads to Upper Deer Creek. Jason Derouchie has nerves of steel. He was standing right next to that ledge! I was with Mike Wittmer trying to get as close to the cliff sloping up behind it as possible. Eventually we agreed it was better not even to look at those guys who were so close to it. Especially when Nate started mocking us by acting like he was going to lunge off the ledge. Crazy. I was claiming Psalm 121:3, “He will not let your foot be moved.”

But from that ledge you can see a long, long way, and it’s Canyon as far as eyes will go. Enormity. Immensity. And it goes a lot farther than weak human eyes take in.

I wish my words were as beautiful as the Canyon’s splendors. It’s a place worthy of poets. Pictures can’t do it justice, but my sweet wife checked out several picture books on the Canyon from the local public library so she and the kids could have a glimpse of its glory.

At the end of the trip we received Tom Vail’s book, Grand Canyon: A Different View. When she saw it, my lovely wife said, “This is what I was hoping for from the books we got from the library; these pictures are far superior.” Its message is, too.

The size of the place is awesome.

At one point you’re a mile deep from river to rim. As you pass through the Upper Granite Gorge and the Middle Granite Gorge (we choppered out before the Lower Granite Gorge), you’re in canyons within the Canyon, and the walls of granite rise so steep and high that the outer rim cannot be seen.

It is big. And it is beautiful. Variety, radiance, harmony, wholeness: glory seen there.

Relationships

Thirty-two men on two boats rafting down the Colorado River. Away from wives, kids, and work responsibilities. No cell phone signals, no laptops, no blogs, twitter feeds, or facebook pages. Walls of rock rise on either side of the river. Eat. Raft. Eat. Raft. Hike. Raft. Eat. Sleep on a cot on a piece of sand in a bend of the River. When you wake up you’re with the same guys ready to sit on the boat again for hours. Plenty of time to talk. Long conversations punctuated by blasts through drenching rapids.

That’s a recipe for relationships, especially when the men are Christ-following and eager to serve.

What a blessing to walk through life with Christian brothers. There is indeed a unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There were four men from the UK, an Australian, and Americans from California and Virginia, Minnesota and Georgia, and a bunch of places in between. It was a blessing to strengthen old friendships and start new ones.

What a gift is friendship, yea, brotherhood–sweetened by the knowledge of the true and living God, faith in his Son Jesus Christ, and the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

Mercy.

Flood

That massive and beautiful Canyon was cut by water. A lot of water moving fast. A catastrophic amount of water. It’s stunning, really, to look at the Canyon and imagine how much water moved through there. Sea water, no less, as evidenced by many, many fossils of salt-water critters.

Anyone who has read the opening pages of my recent book knows that I love guided tours. Even better than some device with a recording is a live tour guide who is a good teacher and likes to answer questions. Andrew Snelling was our live and in person geologist through the Canyon. You can check out his writing in short or long form. In addition to Andrew guiding us through the rocks, Bill Barrick was there to guide us through relevant passages of Scripture. What a blessing to be taught by these men.

We had many discussions of the age of the earth as well, and Terry Mortenson took the lead in these. I’m a convinced young-earther who thinks that flood was global. As World magazine’s books of the year demonstrate, this is a hot topic. Some have recently advocated the idea that what threatens fidelity is not the idea of an old earth but of theistic evolution. With that I’m sympathetic, and I also think the Preface to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy is relevant to this dispute, as it shows men humbly contending earnestly for the truth. For this we should strive as we engage old-earthers (among whom, apparently, we find Augustine, Thomas Chalmers, C. H. Spurgeon, B. B. Warfield, James M. Boice, and Wayne Grudem).

Consider the attractive power of the earnest humility expressed in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. In the Preface the framers begin by asserting the significance of the issue:

We see it as our timely duty to make this affirmation in the face of current lapses from the truth of inerrancy among our fellow Christians and misunderstanding of this doctrine in the world at large.

Then a few lines down there is this challenging graciousness wrapped in an invitation to continue the conversation:

We offer this Statement in a spirit, not of contention, but of humility and love, which we propose by God’s grace to maintain in any future dialogue arising out of what we have said. We gladly acknowledge that many who deny the inerrancy of Scripture do not display the consequences of this denial in the rest of their belief and behavior, and we are conscious that we who confess this doctrine often deny it in life by failing to bring our thoughts and deeds, our traditions and habits, into true subjection to the divine Word.
We invite response to this Statement from any who see reason to amend its affirmations about Scripture by the light of Scripture itself, under whose infallible authority we stand as we speak. We claim no personal infallibility for the witness we bear, and for any help that enables us to strengthen this testimony to God’s Word we shall be grateful.

Amen. May the Lord give us grace to engage in these disputes with a similar spirit.

The waters of the Colorado are powerful, as can be seen in this clip (note how the guy seated front left has his hat knocked off his head when the water rushes over him, and enjoy Derouchie’s fist pumping enthusiasm when he has passed through the waters):

All this water, however, does not appear to be now widening the river’s banks or deepening its channel, which seems to indicate that the Canyon was cut by a catastrophic, unprecedented, and unrepeated flow of water. My mind can barely begin to imagine the fury of the raging waters of Noah’s flood. Praise God that Jesus was baptized in the flood-waters of God’s wrath so that those who trust in him are delivered, as Noah was in the ark.

Homecoming

My gratitude to those who made the trip possible runs deep. I’m thankful for those who made it financially possible, but the deepest waters of thanksgiving flow toward my family. My sweet wife rejoiced in the opportunity to hold down the fort with our four kids, and my heroic dad came to help while I was away. The deep channels of their sacrificial love caused soaring heights of joy when I finally got home. I am the most blessed husband and father in the world.

To have that woman throw her arms around my neck.

There are pleasures that can only be felt in this permanent, exclusive, monogamous, comprehensive, interpersonal, organic union of one man and one woman called marriage.

Praise God.

My sons prepared for my arrival with a note taped to the door of our home, “Dad’s Home, Yippee!” And they made a lap-book of the Grand Canyon. Is it possible to describe what I felt when those three boys, 7, 5, and 3 years old, clambered out of the van and sprinted down the sidewalk at the airport to fling themselves into my arms? I hope they have sons like themselves, and I hope the Lord gives them each a wife like their mother. And then there was the joy of that wobbly five month old baby girl, with her bright-eyed smile and delightful pre-word baby cooing.

The Canyon was enormous and beautiful. The friendships renewed and formed full of joy and promise. The thought of the flood-waters of judgment that cut those rocks, leaving beauty in the wake of destruction (ahem, God’s glory in salvation through judgment) evokes praise for the Maker of the mountains. Coming home to my sweet wife and our four little ones is like stepping into a dream come true.

And all of it is mercy.

Cue organ to blast out the Gloria Patri:

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end, amen, amen.

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The Lord’s Supper in Paul

Thomas R. Schreiner and Matthew R. Crawford have done us a great service in editing The Lord’s Supper: Remembering and Proclaiming Christ until He Comes, which has just appeared from Broadman and Holman.

I’m honored to have contributed to this project, and I’m grateful that Broadman and Holman has kindly granted me permission to post my essay here:

The Lord’s Supper in Paul: An Identity Forming Proclamation of the Gospel,” pages 68–102 in The Lord’s Supper: Remembering and Proclaiming Christ Until He Comes, ed. Thomas R. Schreiner and Matthew R. Crawford, NACSBT (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010).

Patrick Schreiner has an interview with the editors.

Here’s the outline of my essay:

The Lord’s Supper in Paul: An Identity Forming Proclamation of the Gospel

1. Introduction

2. Problems in the Corinthian Church

2.1 First Corinthians 1–4, The Gospel Against Factionalism
2.2 First Corinthians 5–7, The Gospel Against Sexual Immorality
2.3 First Corinthians 8–10, The Gospel Against Idolatry

3. The Lord’s Supper: An Identity Shaping Proclamation of the Gospel

3.1 Anti-gospel Divisions
3.2 Proclaiming the Lord’s Death
3.3 Partaking in a Worthy Manner
3.4 Receiving One Another

4. Implications for the Contemporary Church

Here’s the Table of Contents for the volume:

David S. Dockery, “Foreword”

Thomas R. Schreiner and Matthew R. Crawford, “Introduction”

1. Andreas J. Koestenberger, “Was the Last Supper a Passover Meal?”

2. Jonathan T. Pennington, “The Lord’s Supper in the Fourfold Witness of the Gospels”

3. James M. Hamilton Jr., “The Lord’s Supper in Paul: An Identity-Forming Proclamation of the Gospel”

4. Michael A. G. Haykin, “‘A Glorious Inebriation': Eucharistic Thought and Piety in the Patristic Era”

5. David S. Hogg, “Carolingian Conflict: Two Monks on the Mass”

6. Gregg R. Allison, “The Theology of the Eucharist according to the Catholic Church”

7. Matthew R. Crawford, “On Faith, Signs, and Fruits: Martin Luther’s Theology of the Lord’s Supper”

8. Bruce A. Ware, “The Meaning of the Lord’s Supper in the Theology of Ulrich Zwingli (1484–1531)”

9. Shawn D. Wright, “The Reformed View of the Lord’s Supper”

10. Gregory A. Wills, “Sounds from Baptist History”

11. Brian J. Vickers, “Celebrating the Past and Future in the Present”

12. Gregory Alan Thornbury, “The Lord’s Supper and Works of Love”

13. Ray Van Neste, “The Lord’s Supper in the Context of the Local Church

Thomas R. Schreiner and Matthew R. Crawford, “Epilogue”

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Praise God for True Religion at Kenwood (James 1:27)

I remember hearing John Hannah say at DTS: There are two things that you need to learn at seminary. First, the Bible is God’s word. Second, the Bible is the tool God uses to conform his people to the image of the Lord Jesus.

To see God’s word at work in the hearts and lives of his people is to see God do miracles. When we see people do what the Bible tells them to do, we should not take it for granted. We should not assume that’s just what people do. We should remember how selfish our own hearts are, contemplate how God by his Spirit has enabled these people to hear his Word, and worship God for the power he exercises in conforming people to the image of Christ, who laid down his life for us. It’s a miracle when a sinner acts like Jesus.

What a blessing and joy to see God’s mighty power at work: Jesus loved us by laying down his life, and I praise God to see the people of Kenwood Baptist Church living out true religion by caring for orphans and widows.

Here’s a beautiful picture of what you normally think of when you think of widows and orphans, and here’s another instance of a man caring for the “orphans” whose parents are alive but don’t protect them (in this instance I’m picking up on the way that Piper spoke of the women and babies affected by abortion as widows and orphans).

You want to see miracles today? Go read this post, and then go read this one, and praise God for his power at work in these lives.

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A New Fragment of Athanasius’s Thirty-Ninth Festal Letter

David Brakke has published a signifcant essay with a fresh translation of Athanasius’s Thirty-Ninth Festal Letter:

“A New Fragment of Athanasius’s 39th Festal Letter: Heresy, Apocrypha, and the Canon.”  Harvard Theological Review 103 (2010): 47-66.

He points to some of the implications of a “new fragment of the Coptic text” of Athanasius’s Thirty-Ninth Festal Letter:

“When I read the letter in the mid 1990s, I argued that Athanasius’s promotion of a biblical canon supported a parish-based, episcopally-centered spirituality in opposition to other forms of Christian authority, namely, the teacher and the martyr. I still think that is the case, but the new fragment does suggest that I underestimated the specifically anti-heretical intent of the letter and of Athanasius’s canon. That is, Athanasius promoted a biblical canon not only—as I argued earlier—to support one form of Christian piety, social formation, and authority in opposition to others, but also to refute the specific teachings of persons and groups that he deemed ‘impious’ and ‘heretics.’”[1]

As for what’s new in the new fragment:

“ . . . . These other passages do not, however, include brief descriptions of each heresy’s distinct false teaching as the new fragment does.”[2]

“While the beginning and end of the fragment merely extend or supplement what we already knew of Athanasius’s argument, the brief catalogue of heresies with the biblical passages that refute them in its central section is genuinely new . . .”[3]

Brakke makes an observation that supports the notion that the early church rejected pseudepigraphy/pseudonymity, writing of Athanasius:

“. . . he devotes considerable attention to two particular themes. . . . The second theme is that no ‘apocryphal’ books really come from Isaiah, Moses, Enoch, or any other authoritative figure. They all published their teaching openly, and any ‘apocryphal’ books attributed to them must be recent inventions of heretics.”[4]

This comment adds to a lot of other evidence that when early figures in the church wrongly cited extra-canonical books as Scripture, they did so thinking that the attribution to some ancient inspired prophet was genuine. In other words, had they known the document was pseudepigraphical or pseudonymous, they would have rejected it. To my thinking this adds to the evidence that there were clear notions of authorship in the ancient world, that Jesus accepted the traditional claims about who wrote the books of the OT (e.g., Moses wrote the Pentateuch, Isaiah wrote Isaiah, Daniel wrote Daniel, etc.), and that the early church followed Jesus on this point.

Athanasius’s Thirty-Ninth Festal Letter is not saying something new about the canon. Rather, Athanasius sees himself re-stating ancient tradition. Brakke writes:

“As Athanasius and others like him present the matter, when legitimate officeholders of the church (bishops) teach, they are faithfully passing on what Christ told the disciples, who subsequently informed their Episcopal successors, and so they are not really teaching at all. Athanasius claims this about himself in our letter: ‘I have not written these things as if I were teaching, for I have not attained such a rank. . . . I thus have informed you of everything that I heard from my father,’ that is, Bishop Alexander of Alexandria.”[5]

Athanasius was a shepherd seeking to protect the flock from wolves:

“Although most scholars remain focused on the lists of books, the greater importance of the letter is that it reveals the role of canon formation in supporting one form of Christian piety and authority and undermining others. . . . The new fragment . . . makes clear that in establishing a defined canon Athanasius sought to undermine not only a general spirituality of free intellectual inquiry and its academic mode of authority, but also the specific false doctrines to which he believed such a spirituality gave rise.”[6]

A fresh translation of the entire letter, with a revised version of the new Coptic Fragment, follows on pages 57–66.


[1] David Brakke, “A New Fragment of Athanasius‘s Thirty-Ninth Festal Letter: Heresy, Apocrypha, and the Canon,” Harvard Theological Review 103 (2010): 48.

[2] Ibid., 50.

[3] Ibid., 51.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 53.

[6] Ibid., 56.

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1 Peter 5:1-11, Shepherd, Submit, Stand

It was my privilege to preach at the installation of Ryan Bishop as the Pastor of Graham Bible Church in Graham, TX this past Sunday.

The apostle Peter, the rock, follows Christ by humbling himself to serve others, identifying himself as a fellow-elder as he exhorts elders to model Christ-like self-sacrificing shepherding (1 Pet 5:1-4).

Then he calls the congregations to Christ-like humble submission to authority (“I came not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me”) as he calls them to be subject to the elders in humility (1 Pet 5:5-7).

Peter then explains that Christ-like shepherding and Christ-like submission are enacted in Christ-like standing against Satan (1 Pet 5:8-9).

He concludes with a promise and a doxology (1 Pet 5:10-11).

Spurgeon, being dead, yet speaketh, and here are some of his eloquent statements that appeared in this sermon:

“It is not great talents God blesses so much as likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.” (Lectures to My Students, 2).

On the pastor’s job description:

“To face the enemies of truth, to defend the bulwarks of the faith, to rule well in the house of God, to comfort all that mourn, to edify the saints, to guide the perplexed, to bear with the froward, to win and nurse souls—all these and a thousand other works beside are not for a Feeble-mind or a Ready-to-halt, but are reserved for Great-heart whom the Lord has made strong for himself. Seek then strength from the Strong One, wisdom from the Wise One, in fact, all from the God of all” (Lectures to My Students, 12).

On seeing the saints safely home:

“I am occupied in my small way, as Mr. Great-heart was employed in Bunyan’s day.  I do not compare myself with that champion, but I am in the same line of business.  I am engaged in personally-conducted tours to Heaven; and I have with me, at the present time, dear Old Father Honest:  I am glad he is still alive and active.  And there is Christiana, and there are her children.  It is my business, as best I can, to kill dragons, and cut off giants’ heads, and lead on the timid and trembling.  I am often afraid of losing some of the weaklings.  I have the heart-ache for them; but, by God’s grace, and your kind and generous help in looking after one another, I hope we shall all travel safely to the river’s edge.  Oh, how many have I had to part with there!  I have stood on the brink, and I have heard them singing in the midst of the stream, and I have almost seen the shining ones lead them up the hill, and through the gates, into the Celestial City” (source).

Have a listen here: 1 Peter 5:1-11, Shepherd, Submit, Stand

What is the greatest honor you can imagine? Perhaps the medal of honor given to an American soldier? The honor that Christ the King will bestow on those who served him faithfully so far surpasses that as to make the comparison of the two seem inappropriate. The church is God’s cause in the world. She is Christ’s own bride. The work done in the church has eternal ramifications and it pertains to all nations.

There is no other gospel that saves, no institution more significant, no agenda more important, no task more urgent, no cause more noble, no message more true, no office more dependant on the character of those who discharge it, and no reward greater than what Peter describes here.

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