Friday, May 27, 2011

New Location

I have several friends from church and school using WordPress and quite frankly, I think it looks better. Therefore, I am moving my blog to, easy enough! I will be updating the look and feel of the blog probably as I become more familiar with the blog, so don't be surprised by changes.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Few Reflections on 1 Timothy 1:3

It is easy to see that I have not been blogging lately. I just recently finished my spring semester which took up the bulk of my time. Moreover, I have one more class for one week starting next week that I have been preparing for. After I am finished with that class, I will be able to resume blogging a little more and will pick up Rob Bell's Love Wins again. In the meantime, I have been reading Evangelicals Engaging Emergent: A Discussion of the Emergent Church Movement. I have to review this book for class so I will eventually post my review. The review will be in the format required by The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, as it is for a class, so I will be limited to what I can say in it, but hopefully it will be worth posting.

Reading this book, however, along with Love Wins and other material from Emergents, I have been thinking more about the issues which divide Emergents and Evangelicals (recognize here that I am aware that some Emergents desire to retain the label, 'evangelical', while others shun labels altogether). I shall not here delve into the issues, but as I have also been reading 1 Timothy in preparation for an exegesis class on the Pastoral Epistles towards the end of the summer, I do want to make some comments concerning verse three which came about through my reflections on the text and thinking about the Emergent Church, postmodernism, relativism, pluralism, and other -isms which may or may not be linked to one another.

In 1 Timothy 1:3, Paul writes, "As I commanded you when I was entering Macedonia, remain in Ephesus so that you might command certain people not to teach false doctrine (translation mine)." I want to note three things regarding this passage. First, what the apostle Paul's instruction was to Timothy, especially with reference to the manner which the instruction was given. Second, the purpose of the instruction and the manner in which it was to be carried out. Finally, the implication concerning the word, "eÔterodidaskaleiæn", meaning, to teach a different doctrine.

To begin, it is obvious from the text that Paul's instruction for Timothy was for him to "remain in Ephesus." Paul was going into Macedonia, likely, as was his custom, to preach the gospel and strengthen the churches. It will be seen v. 3c that false teachers had infiltrated the church at Ephesus. This came as no surprise to Paul, for he had warned the Ephesians that 'fierce wolves' would come in among them, not sparing the flock (Acts 20:29). Moreover, men from within would rise up and begin to teach "twisted things" in order to draw away disciples after them (Acts 20:30). Though this was no surprise, Paul did not take this lightly. He "commanded" or "charged" Timothy to remain in Ephesus. Timothy was a "man of God" (1 Tim 6:11) who had known the Scriptures from his youth (2 Tim 3:15). He was fully competent to handle the Scriptures correctly and obey his beloved apostle's command. What is clear from Paul's language is that this was not optional. Paul was not suggesting a route which might be best for the church. He was not giving counsel to Timothy and allowing him to judge based upon Paul's suggestion and what he saw occurring in Ephesus. No, Paul, with the seriousness of a shepherd concerned for the safety of his flock, charges Timothy, "Timothy, there is a problem, and you are able to handle it. Remain in Ephesus."

Why was Timothy told to remain in Ephesus? Indeed, for a specific purpose. Timothy was ordered to remain for this purpose: "Command certain people not to teach false doctrine." A poison had infiltrated, its name: heterodoxy. There was a standard of teaching which was to be upheld, an apostolic standard. There was a gospel to be proclaimed and a gospel to be defended. This teaching had boundaries. There were things that were another teaching (heterodoxy), and things that were "ojrqotomi√a", (orthodoxy). Indeed, that which was a "different doctrine" was no trivial thing. Paul commanded Timothy to "command" these false teachers to stop teaching their doctrines. There is no hint of "dialogue" or "conversation" here. Timothy knows what apostolic teaching is. He knows what the Scriptures teach. Paul knows that Timothy knows these things, and based upon the certainty of the Scriptures, and their doctrines concerning the gospel, Timothy is ordered in all seriousness to fulfill the mandate: "Command these people to stop." What is interesting, and perhaps a lesson that needs to be learned by the modern church that is so afraid of being labeled as "fundamentalists" or "backwards anti-intellectuals," is that the apostles did not tolerate false doctrine in the least. They did not want to hear it themselves, nor did they want the church to hear it. Indeed, not only do we see Paul, with all solemnity, commanding that this heterodoxy be silenced, but the apostle John, speaking about those who were teaching false doctrines, commanded "the elect lady and her children" (2 Jn 1) not to receive these teachers into their homes or even to give them a greeting (2 Jn 10). There is, like it or not, a certain "intolerance" for false doctrine that the church is to exercise, and this intolerance will inevitably lead to false accusations, slander, and reviling from the world. But the churches mandate is to serve her King, remaining faithful to him, preserving the standard of teaching "once for all delivered". He is the one for whom she is to persevere. The churches service to the world is to be grounded upon the truth which is in Jesus. Her love for neighbor is always in response to her love for God, and true love "rejoices with the truth" (1 Cor 13:6).

This leads me into my final, and brief, reflection. What indeed is implied by there being "eÔterodidaskaloV" (another/different/false doctrine)? Is it not that there is true doctrine? If indeed there is teaching which is contrary to the standard, then there is indeed a right standard. There is a teaching which is clear. Clear certainly does not mean easy, but it is nevertheless clear. This argument that I have been seeing a lot lately, "Well, that is your interpretation," or, "That is just what your tradition believes," do the Christians arguing like this not realize that this is how the unbelieving world objects to Christianity? Is the gospel really so subject to personal biases? Does the fact that there are indeed many "traditions" and "different doctrines" or "interpretations" thereby negate ones ability to be able to interpret and understand truth with a certainty which allows them to proclaim the gospel with a proper dogmatism? I can only imagine how the apostle John or one of his disciples hearing such absurdity would respond. I am sure that if a person came to the apostle John and said, "You do realize that there are many forms of Judaism that read the Law differently than you," that John probably would have responded, "Yes, indeed, and they are wrong." Or perhaps one might have approached Irenaeus and said, "You do realize that there are many Gnostics out there who have very plausible arguments for their interpretations." I am sure, knowing Irenaeus' fondness for the Gnostics, that he might have responded, "Yes, indeed, and they are heretics."

What is clear from 1 Timothy 1:3 is that Paul believes that there are two sides of the coin, and that is it. There is truth and there is falsehood. There are children of God and children of wrath. There are dead men and living men. There are faithful teachers and false teachers. Our duty is not necessarily to go heretic hunting, but at the least, we are to recognize that there is poison and living water, doctrine clearly set forth in Scripture, and doctrine clearly derived from men's own imaginations. May we be discerning Christians, always prepared to speak with clarity to a confused world, watching that we may not enter into temptation and forsake the Lord, praying that we might glorify Christ through being ambassadors who are competent in his word, and doing these things all with the multifaceted love of Christ, uniting truth with compassion, and patience with all seriousness.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Flavel's Sixth Direction on Putting Lust to Death

Make choice of a meet yoke-fellow, and delight in her you have chosen. This is a lawful remedy (1 Cor 7:9). God ordained it (Gen 2:21). But herein appears the corruption of nature, that men delight to tread by-paths, and forsake the way which God has appointed. As that divine poet, Mr. George Herbert says,
If God had laid all common, certainly
Man would have been th' encloser: but since now
God hath impal'd us, on the contrary
Man breaks the fence, and every ground will plough.
O what were man, might he himself misplace! 
Sure to be cross he would shift feet and face.
Stolen waters are sweeter to them than those waters they might lawfully drink at their own fountain: but withal know, it is not the having, but the delighting in a lawful wife, as God requires you to do, that must be a fence against this sin. So Solomon, "Let her be as the loving hind, and pleasant roe; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times, and be thou ravished always with her love (Prov 5:19)."

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Only Hope for Mankind

Over at Justin Taylor's blog, he posted a Sermon Jam of Ravi Zacharias that was excellent. I always enjoy listening to Ravi. Here is the video:

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Seven Cardinal Requisites of Preaching

Robert L Dabney's "Seven Cardinal Requisites of Preaching." This is taken from T. David Gordon's book, Why Johnny Can't Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers.

1. Textual Fidelity
Here Dabney's Protestantism is visible. For Dabney, a minister is an ambassador, who represents another, declaring the will of that Other. Therefore, he is not entitled to preach his own insights, his own opinions, or even his own settled convictions; he is entitled only to declare the mind of God revealed in Holy Scripture. Since the mind of God is disclosed in Scripture, the sermon must be entirely faithful to the text - a genuine exposition of the particular thought of the particular text.

2. Unity
"Unity requires these two things. The speaker must, first, have one main subject of discourse, to which he adheres with supreme reference throughout. But this is not enough. He must, second, propose to himself one definite impression on the hearer's soul, to the making of which everything in the sermon is bent."

3. Evangelical Tone
"It is defined by Vinet as 'the general savour of Christianity, a gravity accompanied by tenderness, a severity tempered with sweetness, a majesty associated with intimacy.' Blair calls it 'gravity and warmth united'... an ardent zeal for God's glory and a tender compassion for those who are perishing."

4. Instructiveness
The instructive sermon is that which abounds in food for the understanding. It is full of thought, and richly informs the mind of the hearer. It is opposed, of course, to vapid and commonplace compositions; but it is opposed also to those which seek to reach the will through rhetorical ornament and passionate sentiment, without establishing rational conviction... Religion is an intelligent concern, and deals with man as a reasoning creature. Sanctification is by the truth. To move men we must instruct. No Christian can be stable and consistent save as he is intelligent... If you would not wear out after you have ceased to be a novelty, give the minds of your people food.

5. Movement
Movement is not a blow or shock, communicating only a single or instantaneous impulse, but a sustained progress. It is, in short, that force thrown from the soul of the orator into his discourse by which the soul of the hearer is urged, with a constant and accelerated progress, toward that practical impression which is designed for the result... The language of the orator must possess, in all its flow, a nervous brevity and a certain well-ordered haste, like that of the racer pressing to his goal.

6. Point
Dabney uses the word point to describe the overall intellectual and emotional impact of a sermon. Point is thus a result of unity, movement, and order, which put a convincing, compelling weight on the soul of the hearer. The hearer feels a certain point impressing itself on him, and feels that he must either agree or disagree, assent or deny.

7. Order
We would probably call this organization, but the idea is the same. A discourse (sacred or otherwise) cannot have unity, movement, or point without having order. Order is simply the proper arrangement of the parts, so that what is earlier prepares for what is later. A well-ordered sermon reveals a sermon's unity, makes the sermon memorable, and gives the sermon great point.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Review of Rob Bell's Love Wins: Part I

As I have time to work through Bell's new book, I will be posting my comments here. Bell's new book has obviously, and rightly so, sparked a firry controversy. On the one hand, there are those who have denounced the book as sub-Biblical, universalistic, and heretical. On the other hand, there are those who have either embraced the book as a good and meaningful contribution to the doctrine of hell, or, although not embracing the book, have defended Bell for raising necessary questions, and challenging views that perhaps are wrongly held as dogma. Which perspective is correct should really be determined by the content of the book. Is Bell honest with his presentation of facts? Is he faithful to the text of Scripture? Is he seeking to open up dialogue on a confusing issue, or is he seeking to prove a perspective? Moreover, is Bell a universalist? Or is this a false accusation? All of these questions, and more, will be addressed as I comment on the book. I have already read a few chapters, and my initial reaction and warning is that nearly every line requires a comment. I will not be commenting on every line, of course, but I will be commenting on everything I believe to be significant and/or revealing. The Preface is relatively short, so I will begin by covering most of what is said in it:

Bell begins his book by providing, first, a presupposition, and second, a reason for writing the book. As for his presupposition he states, "First, I believe that Jesus's story is first and foremost about the love of God for every single one of us. It is a stunning, beautiful, expansive love, and it is for everybody, everywhere." (vii) What Bell means by "us" is "every-individual-on-the-planet-who-has-every-lived." This is clear from his half-quotation of John 3:16 ("For God so loved the world...") which assumes an interpretation of world as referring to every individual. He goes on to say, "That's why Jesus came. That's his message. That's where the life is found." (vii) Bell's understanding of the love of God is that it is the same for every person. God loves every individual the same, and in the same way. In the way that He loves Moses, He loves Pharaoh. Just as He loves King David, He loves King Manasseh, and just as He loves the apostle Paul, He loves the Judaizers. What is perplexing, though, is that Bell has reduced the gospel to a half-quotation of John 3:16 which emphasizes the love of God which he wrongly interprets. It is not necessarily a problem to quote only a portion of a verse, but that is only if one has correctly understood the portion quoted. Bell essentially says that Jesus' message and purpose was to announce that God loved and loves everybody. There's no wrath; no anger; no judgment; nothing. This, of course, is easy to believe if one ignores the rest of John 3:16-18. The text goes on to say, however, that God gave his monogenh: ("unique" or "only begotten") Son. This is a reference to the cross; the bloody cross; the cross where sin was condemned in the flesh (Rom 8:3). The cross unto which Jesus was given over because of our transgressions (Rom 4:25). And this cross had a purpose. The cross was indeed an example for all who would follow Jesus, but it was also much, much more. This giving of the Son was "so that paÇß oJ pisteuvwn (everyone who believes) in him should not perish, but have eternal life." Is this language of perishing not also central to Jesus' message? Bell certainly does not seem to think so, even though God's love and God's wrath are placed right next to each other. Indeed, why did Bell choose to quote the first portion of John 3:16, and not for example, John 3:18b ("the one who does not believe has already been condemned"). Bell is supposed to be a pastor, and pastors are supposed to preach the whole counsel of God. They do not have the authority to pick and choose what they would like to emphasize and leave out. If they believe that one portion of Scripture might offend, and another might uplift, they do not have the option to discard that which may bring them criticism, and even persecution.

Bell goes on to say that "Jesus' story has been hijacked by a number of other stories, stories Jesus isn't interested in telling, because they have nothing to do with what he came to do." (viii) What he says next, however, is quite revealing about Bell's agenda. "The plot has been lost, and it's time to reclaim it." (viii) Before Bell's book was released, it was criticized and it was defended. What was typical, and still remains typical for Bell's defenders is the assertion that Bell is merely raising questions. He is attempting to dialogue about a "perplexing" doctrine such as the doctrine of hell. He is joining in the "conversation." Bell himself has publicly said that he enjoys "the conversation". However, his words here paint a different picture. "It's time to reclaim it," he says. This is not only an assertion that what has been preached as the gospel is false, but it is a declaration, a call to arms, a summons to battle, a decree that says, "We have the real gospel." Now I agree with Bell, and this will become clearer as we progress through the book, that much of what Bell has a problem with, is in fact sub-Biblical. He is typically dissatisfied and disgusted by a fundamentalist gospel that preaches nothing but damnation, no grace, and is also quite Arminian in its understanding of the human will. But Bell's solution, his counter-gospel, is typically no gospel at all. He has gone from one extreme to the other. What is clear from the above quote, is that Bell has an agenda. What remains to be seen is whether his agenda, his gospel, his message, has any foundation.

Bell goes on to describe the false "Jesus story". "A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians (italics mine) will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better." (viii) A "select few Christians," Bell says. Perhaps this is the doctrine in some small, sectarian churches. There might be some small little group tucked away in a barn somewhere that possess salvation all to itself. I would have a problem with this belief as well, for the Scriptures say that the elect of God are "nations" and "multitudes". Abraham was told to "count the stars" if he could, and his descendants would be as they are (Gen 15:5). No one knows the number of God's elect. Personally, I don't understand what Bell is getting at with this statement, because it's not a widely held belief. Is hell, punishment, and torment? Yes. Is heaven, peace, and joy? Yes. But the idea that there's some "select few" group is a sectarian belief, or it's Bell not understanding election.

Bell contrasts this "Jesus story" with "Jesus's message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear." (viii) Is this all that our world needs to hear? Is this Jesus' only message? One could come away from reading this and believe that Jesus was some pot-smoking hippie holding up two fingers wearing a tie dye shirt. Was it not Jesus who said, "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:20)"? Was it not Jesus who said that it would be better to lose one of your members "than to have your whole body thrown into hell (Matt 5:29)"? Was it not Jesus who warned of false prophets (Matt 7:15)? Was it not Jesus who warned that many who claimed to know him would be cast away (Matt 7:21-23)? There's more to Jesus' message than kumbaya. There is love, peace, and forgiveness which is found in Him. But there is also condemnation, punishment, and destruction outside of Him. The two cannot be separated, unless one is dishonest with the text. It is one thing to say, "I reject this as true." It is another to act as though it is not even there. Bell is guilty of the latter.

After voicing some of his presuppositions, Bell states his purpose for writing the book. He says, "I've written this book because the kind of faith Jesus invites us into doesn't skirt the big questions about topics like God and Jesus and salvation and judgment and heaven and hell, but takes us deep into the heart of them." (ix) Although I would perhaps reword this statement; for the most part, I agree with what is said. Christianity is not anti-intellectual. Bell has in mind, again, ignorant fundamentalism. He rejects, rightly, a spirit or attitude which does not permit criticism, questioning, or pursuit of truth. As he goes on to say, "Some communities don't permit open, honest inquiry about the things that matter most." (ix) This is indeed a problem, for Christianity is not a religion of darkness, but of light. The Christian must, to use B. B. Warfield's words, balance authority, the intellect, and the heart. If authority is the sole ruler, then a person is reduced to mere traditionalism. In this, there is no room for inquiry. One must accept what has been handed down on the basis of antiquity or some other means of authority. If the intellect is a person's master, it will result in mere rationalism. The human reason becomes the measuring stick, or the standard, by which all things are tested. Yet what is never fully understood, what the "rational" man never rationally concludes is that human reason possesses, within itself, infinite deficiencies. If the heart alone is the sufficient guide, then only mysticism can be its end. All three of these must be balanced. In order to know divine truth, there must be a conversion of the heart. The heart must be softened and shaped into a cistern which may receive the living water. It must be sufficiently prepared in order to delight in the medicine which Christ brings to the soul. Just as a broken cistern will never be able to contain water, even so a dead heart will never be able to respond to words of life. It must be revived. And this reviving comes through the authoritative word. It is the word of God that sanctifies (Jn 17:17), and this word is authoritative. One will search long and hard to find the preaching of the gospel by the apostles taking place as a mere intellectual pursuit. The gospel was proclaimed with power. There was no, "Was Jesus raised?" There was only, "God raised him up, having released him from the pains of death, because it was not possible for him to be held in its power (Acts 2:24)." The authoritative word, coupled by the power of the Holy Spirit, is what converts the soul and makes the heart new. But how does the word reach the heart, without first traversing through the intellect? Indeed, the mind must first grasp what is being proclaimed. But this intellect, if it is not sanctified, profits a man nothing concerning divine truth. It must operate while knowing its proper place; not as the final measure by which all, including God, must be subjected, but as a servant submitted to Christ who is its wisdom. These three, authority, intellect, and the heart, properly balanced, will avoid the rigid fundamentalism which Bell rightly rejects while also withholding the Christian from flying into the opposite, and equally dangerous spectrum, pagan Liberalism.

There is still more that Bell says in his Preface which could be debunked, challenged, rebuked, and overturned. He essentially glorifies "discussion" for the sake of discussion. It is as if asking questions, no matter how stupid they might be, deserves a gold medal. Discussion and dialogue is a good thing. There are some issues which are quite confusing, and Christians discussing, debating, yes, even arguing can be quite profitable. But discussion and dialogue is not all that there is. There is such a thing as that dreaded word, "dogmatics". There are dogmatics in Christianity; doctrines which are to be declared, preached, and defended; and yes, they consist of much more than merely, "Jesus was resurrected," and "Jesus died for sins." Details matter, and in the Scriptures, we have details, lots of them. We do not have vague and general statements. We have lots of doctrines that are addressed from many different angles in many different places. The doctrine of hell is one of them. This is no vague issue. Hell, judgment, wrath, punishment, death, penalty for sin; these are things discussed on every page of the Bible. Dogmatics is what the modern church seeks to avoid, but it is dogmatics which the church is built upon, and it is dogmatics which the church must continue to preach... dogmatically...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Amazing Grace

This is a prayer from The Valley of Vision entitled, "Amazing Grace." May it be to you comfort, wisdom, and strength as it has been to me:

O thou giving God,
My heart is drawn out in thankfulness
to thee,
for thy amazing grace and condescension
to me
in influences and assistances of thy Spirit,
for special help in prayer,
for the sweetness of Christian service,
for the thoughts of arriving in heaven,
for always sending me needful supplies,
for raising me to new life when I am like one dead.
I want not the favor of man to lean upon
for thy favor is infinitely better.
Thou art eternal wisdom in dispensations
towards me;
and it matters not when, nor where, nor how, I serve thee,
nor what trials I am exercised with, 
if I might but be prepared for thy work and will.
No poor creature stands in need of divine grace
more than I do.
How heartless and dull I am!
Humble me in the dust for not loving thee more.
Every time I exercise any grace renewedly
I am renewedly indebted to thee,
the God of all grace, for special assistance.
I cannot boast when I think how dependent
I am upon thee for the being and every act
of grace;
I never do anything else but depart from thee,
and if I get to heaven it will be because
thou willest it, and for no reason beside.
I love, as a feeble, afflicted, despised creature,
to cast myself on thy infinite grace and goodness,
hoping for no happiness but from thee;
Give me special grace to fit me for special services,
and keep me calm and resigned at all times,
humble, solemn, mortified,
and conformed to thy will.