Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Books are Better than Blogs

Books are Better than Blogs (and that includes this one!)

Lately, I've reversed my trend which had become primarily consuming theological blogs and online magazine articles on a day to day basis, as opposed to my previous favored pass time, which was book reading. In doing so, I've learned a few lessons. One rather obvious and the other perhaps not so much.

The rather obvious lesson, of course, is that books are a far superior medium for communicating and fully developing the range of thinking on complex and weighty subjects, unlike blogs where it is exceedingly difficult to avoid over-simplification and much easier to lack nuance.

The perhaps less obvious lesson that has me re-valuing my book reading efforts has to do with how I think about and view the authors themselves. First I will explain what I mean and give a few examples of how that has worked its way out for me, and then briefly I'll consider my reason why it this is important.

Beginning with authors whom I've become acquainted with first through the blogosphere, I will offer two examples. One is Owen Strachan and the other is Denny Burk. My introduction with both of these authors is linked to their internet blogs on the topic of Biblical manhood and Biblical womanhood. Articles by Mr. Strachan that discussed the small percentage of men who stay at home with their children and muppets on the show Sesame Street depicted playing with dolls had me shaking my head and lamenting the future prospects of the CBMW. Likewise, on Mr. Burk's blog I had encountered some un-nuanced defenses of some ambiguous and controversial issues in the media that seemed overly strident. To me, the growing influence of these types of rising voices within the YRR movement on manhood and womanhood had seemed concerning.

Since I'm not a one-dimensional believer, however, I have remained open to watching, reading and learning on these topics, as well as being okay with the fact that I don't have to agree with everyone on everything to still learn from their expertise. Therefore, I gladly and gratefully purchased recent books published by both Strachan and Burk. 

In "The Meaning of Sex", I actually grew tremendously by seeing Mr. Burk's true passion for the straightforward presentation of what the scriptures actually say, boldly, simply, with careful precision, without any apologies, and without any fluffy story-telling. I could see that this is the type of writing that doesn't exactly go over well in the blogosphere generally, where the audience is from all walks of faith (or non-faith) and where caveats and nuance are otherwise usually spelled out clearly in order to prevent a flaming comment section. Now, I can honestly say that while I didn't actually learn anything particularly new theologically from Mr. Burk's book, I thought his approach to the topic of sex and marriage was spot-on Biblical and greatly beneficial.  If I read his blog today, I will have a different appreciation of his message and purpose, seeing him as a sort of sentinel, rather than a shepherd. Bottom line: reading the book in priority over the blog changes my expectations and perception of the author's content.

Similarly, Mr. Strachan's newest book, "Risky Gospel", was an eye-opener for two primary reasons. First, he addressed a chronic issue in the church today, that applies especially to millennials, but also to others like myself.  The issue of underlying fear holds many of us believers back from doing great things for the Lord by faith.  The way he unfolds his case is extremely helpful and relevant. The second and very unexpected benefit of reading this book, was how my perception and feeling for the author was radically changed. In this book, Mr. Strachan gives very personal and intimate examples from his own life that connected all of this teaching points in very dramatic and heartfelt ways, showing his great care for the audience for whom he wrote the book. It was quite convicting to me to learn how much love came through in the chapters of this book, since I had never once considered the author's motivation when reading his blog posts. Again, short, widely-disseminated articles on the internet can be read with the greatest distrusted when we are not acquainted with an author's background or intended audience. 

So, above I have offered just two examples of why I believe reading books is more fruitful ultimately than focusing mainly on blogs, from the direction of first encountering blog articles, and then working up to more formally published books. Perhaps there is a way to improve the quality of blogging by considering how the best elements of books could be incorporated... but that's not really my focus here.

In addition, I have a final illustration from the other direction. After having been acquainted with Carl Trueman's wonderfully written and researched books for some time, I began reading his blog posts on the Reformation21site. When I first read Mr. Trueman's blogging, I did something like a spiritual fist pump, because he was acknowledging some of the unfortunate changes happening in our churches these days to make them "hip" and "relevant". Like most people, my reaction was like watching Simon Cowell in the early days of "American Idol". I was glad and grateful for the guy who brought reality back into the reality show. The truly talented singers on this show exemplified a sort of Glory: the beauty and talent of up and coming vocalists. However, when everyone was told that they did well, it undermined the worthiness of "the best". Like Simon Cowell, in the reformed world, Mr. Trueman's candor and courage to speak up and call out silliness and wrongheadedness made many of us rejoice because we had felt that others had been weak in that area, and finally we had a truth teller.

Soon after, however, the criticism and correction started to point toward some of our "favorite idols". And the conviction went two-ways: 1-because perhaps we had elevated that particular "idol" to a level of non-reproach and couldn't tolerate any negativity AND/OR 2-because we felt the weight of the criticism and negativity that we had been participating in toward others and realized it was not proper or edifying. In fact, for many of us, it had been quite prideful and self-justifying, as we didn't have to look at any of our shortcomings so long as there were public figures at whom to gawk. Of complaining and criticism there can be no end (until Christ returns). No one, no matter how talented, can sing or serve perfectly day after day, night after night. We can always find something wrong with the other person. Always. Even the critic is not immune from blindspots, so for me, and for the benefit of my soul and my communion with the Body of Christ, I have stepped away from the critics and "discernment blogs". I'll stick with one of Mr. Trueman's good books that puts forth the positive, reformed view, but there's really not a great need for me to seek out examples of what's going wrong out there. That might be someone else's role, but I'm better off staying away from it. I can enjoy Mr. Trueman's blogs by leaving that aspect to him and focusing on the parts where I can grow and learn. 

In summary, I have found it more profitable to spend my time with great books rather than web-surfing through the wide-world of reformed blogs. I do check in on certain of my preferred blogs, but I also make a conscious effort to emphasized the deeper and meatier things. Even better than all of this: in 2014, I plan to do another YouVerse (iPhone) read of the Bible. That should be the most profitable of all, I pray. 

Merry Christmas! Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Top 20 Books of 2013

Top 20 Reads of 2013 (** =  my Top 10)

Long time, no blog. I know. Much of my time has been spent reading and studying some of these amazing books - all published just this year! So, here are my Top 20 of the year. I'm glad I own them all, even though several are still in the process of 'being read' to completion. I purchase most of my books from WTS Bookstore when they are first released for steep discounts. Sign up for their email newsletters to get notified when the latest and greatest titles come out. In the meantime, enjoy my list!


1. From Heaven He Came and Sought Her**: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective. Gibson, Blocher, Ferguson, et al.
2. The King in His Beauty**: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments. Schreiner, Thomas R.
3. Covenantal Apologetics**: Principles and Practice in Defense of Our Faith. Oliphint, K. Scott and Edgar, William
4. Reformed Means Missional**: Following Jesus Into the World. Logan, Samuel, et. al
5. Thy Word is Still Truth: Essential Writings on the Doctrine of Scripture from the Reformation to Today. Lillback, Peter A. and Gaffin, Richard B.
6. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief. Frame, John M. (only about 100 pages in)
7. Can You Believe It's True:? Christian Apologetics in a Modern and Postmodern Era. Feinberg, John S.
8. Kingdom Come: The Amillenial Alternative. Storms, Sam.
9. Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat. Bratt, James D.
10. Jesus on Every Page: 10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament. Murray, David.


11. Resisting Gossip**: Winning the War of the Wagging Tongue. Mitchell, Matthew C.
12. Glimpses of Grace**: Treasuring the Gospel in Your Home. Furman, Gloria
13. Extravagant Grace**: God's Glory Displayed in Our Weakness. Duguid, Barbara
14. Sexual Sanity for Women**: Healing from Sexual and Relational Brokenness. Dykas, Ellen.
15. Love into Light**: The Gospel, The Homosexual and The Church. Hubbard, Peter.
16 Risky Gospel**: Abandon Fear and Build Something Awesome. Strachan, Owen .
17. Found in Him: The Joy of the Incarnation and Our Union with Christ. Fitzpatrick, Elyse M.
18. Why Christ Came: 31 Meditations on the Incarnation. Beeke, Joel R. and Boekestein, William.


19. Galatians (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), Moo, Douglas J.
20. Judges for You: For Reading, For Feeding, For Leading. Keller, Timothy.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Book Review: Covenantal Apologetics 5/5

Dr. K. Scott Oliphint has written a new resource entitled, "Covenantal Apologetics: Principles and Practice in Defense of Our Faith", which is on sale from the Westminster Bookstore for $8 - 60% off.

The Forward by William Edgar and book Introduction is available online here.

Anyone who has read my blog or attended church with me will know that I have pretty much always been skeptical about the methodology of presuppositional apologetics. Because the context in which I came to faith in Christ myself and in listening to and learning from Dr. R.C. Sproul and the fine folks at Ligonier Ministries, I've had severe and several reservations about presuppositionalism. Add to this the further clouded fact that so many of the most ardent adherents I've met personally tend to subscribe to a brand of reformed thought in the line of theonomy and Federal Vision, to which I am quite against.

So, I resolved to put aside my preconceptions and let the author speak to me on his own terms, translated into a common vernacular and devoid of the loaded technical jargon that tends to bog down discussions of principle and practice.

Anyway, having said all of that, I can honestly say that I was more than pleasantly surprised with this book. Not only did Dr. Oliphint address eventually every one of the objections that I have held against the presuppositional approach by describing the tenets in the manner he used, but he also showed me where some of my foundational understandings were not entirely squared up with the scriptures and the creeds of our faith. Granted, some of the objections to the line of argument were not directly answered at the moment in which they naturally occurred, but typically within a few pages, or perhaps in a following chapter, I found that these concerns were fully and repectfully answered. Throughout the book, for instance, I found myself continuing to disagree mildly with his notions of rationality and the use of evidences. By the end of the book, however, most especially the hypothetical dialog between the Muslim and the Christian, I found myself, finally, thoroughly convinced of the inability of rationality to arrive at ultimate Truth as worshippers of the Triune God understand it through His revelation.

Most appreciatively, the author has provided an engaging and gracious framework that, if followed, has huge implications for the advancement of (formerly known as presuppositional) covenantal apologetics. He models an approach that is gracious and merciful, but without compromising a crumb of truth on the alter of manners. He lays out key tenets for dialogs with "outsiders", while acknowledging that both evangelism and knocking down strongholds/false arguments are overarching movitvations in this approach, which resonated with me completely.

Additionally, this book clarified issues that for some reason, have not been effectively addressed to me in other discussions of presuppositionalism. One example of this is the proper use of the concept of general revelation. Every human being, created in the image of God, is implanted with the knowledge of their creator. Having come from a more Thomistic understanding of this doctrine, and even after having read the Institutes several times, I still held a false view of the general revelation concept. Previously, my assumption was that God gave mankind the ability to reason and think, so that they could perceive their Creator in what was Created. I've always assumed that's how it worked. The idea that we have all been implanted with the knowledge of God and His eternal attributes is a seemingly small distinction to some -- but let me just say that this distinction makes A HUGE difference and has been an unfortunate sticking point for me until now. The idea that all human beings, regardless of age or rational capability, actually have the knowledge of God implanted in their nature, because of the fact that we are all image bearers of Him, is a distinction that we should continue to be very careful not to forget or allow others to confuse. The implications of this truth are wide-reaching and help immensely in having a better concept of the Covenantal nature of our Lord!

Okay, this is getting long now; however, I must commend a particular portion of this book to every potential reader before ending my comments. If you are already acquainted with this style of apologetic and want to spend your time with just one chapter, you must read the one titled: "You Are Very Religious" including the hypothetical dialog between the Christian and the Muslim.  True, every chapter in the book has a great deal to commend, but from my perspective, the "Very Religious" chapter is becoming a much more relevant to the prevalent arguments coming from academia these days and in culture generally. The secular atheist, a la Dawkins, believe it or not is a declining category in these circles. The ability to address the theistic, oneist (often Eastern) philosophies will be our new frontier. This book, very graciously and theologically addresses some of the foundational arguments that we will be seeing more and more, as Muslim and Eastern philosophies advance in this country.

Thanks for reading this book review. And, thank you, Dr. Oliphint for taking the time to put these principles and this roadmap for apologetic practice into writing for all of us to read!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

On Being on the Unpopular Side of DOMA - Twice!

Ah! Now here is an article by Rosario Champagne Butterfield that I wish I had the talent and wit to write! Enjoy the whole piece from Desiring God: DOMA and The Rock

Here is an excerpt that really caught my attention (but do read the whole thing, since she says a lot more than just this little bit):

Lessons in Losing

    "So, here is what I have learned from being on the losing team of both historic, public, and political renderings of homosexuality.

    "Homosexuality is a sin, but so is homophobia. Homophobia is irrational fear of a whole people group, failing to see in that group God’s image diminished but not extinguished by sin, and that God’s elect people linger there, snared by their own design and awaiting gospel grace. Biding time. Think about that. Waiting like the caterpillar that spawned today’s butterfly. God has set apart a people from before the foundation of the world to receive his grace, and they are waiting for you in every nation and people group. It is an act of homophobia to believe that people in the LGBT community are either too sinful to respond to God’s call on their life, or to believe that people in the LGBT community have a fixed nature that will never, by the blustering, unfounded, and uncharitable declarations of secular psychology, change by the power of the gospel.
    The only fixed feature of the human constitution or badge of personal identity is the soul; imprint of God to us, it will journey from life to death to life and will last forever, permanently, for eternity in heaven or hell."

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Blast From the Past: Happy Dependence Day

Blast from the past
All Things New: Happy Dependence Day: In so many ways, I'm really very American. The whole spirit of independence and personal autonomy drives me all too often. And therein lies the rub!

Am I living like an orphan (independent) or like a daughter of God?

Here are some characteristics to look for from Rose Marie Miller's book From Fear to Freedom:

Characteristics of an orphan -
  • Life consciously or unconsciously is centered on personal autonomy and moral will power, with grace understood as God's maintaining your own strength -- not as his transforming power.
  • Faith is defined as trying harder to do and be better, with a view to establishing a good record leading to self-justification.
  • Obedience is related to external, visible duties, with attitudes and deeper motivation virtually ignored.
  • "What people think" is represented as the real moral standard, based upon visible success and failure.
  • An "I-am-a-victim" attitude is supported by coping strategies: wall building, blame shifting, gossiping, and defending. All this is accompanied by intense feelings of aloneness, believing that no one understands and that one is trapped by circumstances.
Characteristics of a daughter of God
  • Increasing assurance of God as Father through knowledge of the doctrine of the Cross.
  • Building a partnership with God, relying on the Spirit for a willing and obedient life.
  • Forgiving instead of judging and condemning, putting off defensiveness, and learning to listen.
  • Relying on the Holy Spirit to use the tongue for praise and not complaint or gossiping.
  • Seeing by faith God's sovereign plan over one's life as wise and good -- a plan not to be feared.
  • Learning to pray; recognizing that we have no resources, and claiming the promises of God.
  • Relying on the Holy Spirit in going quickly to Christ with sins, burdens, and needs, seeking daily forgiveness and cleansing.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Review - The Ascension: Humanity in The Presence of God

The Ascension: Humanity in The Presence of God by Tim Chester and Jonny Woodrow

Finding this little 92-page gem last week at the Westminster Theological Seminary Bookstore was an answer to prayer. As I prepared to place my order online, I only needed to spend couple more dollars to meet the minimum order for free shipping. So, I browsed around for good deals and caught this one on sale for 50% off - only $4.50. I had no idea that inside I would find the answer to one of my more recent theological queries; How do I understand and believe the mysterious statement of Paul in Ephesians 2:6?

"And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus" 

Certainly, this short verse speaks volumes on its own merits, but I had only the barest of understanding with regard to what the ascension of Christ has to do with me in the here and now. As it turns out, many of my theological gaps reside in my lack of understanding of the ascension and why it is important to me - right now. The already and the not yet of our Christian experience is embodied in the ascension. Our mission as the Church in this world finds its true explanation, not in in the incarnation as we so popularly think these days, but rather in the ascension. An ascensional mission, rather than an incarnational mission, is understanding that this world is simultaneously being ruled over by Christ from heaven and simultaneously groaning for His return when we will rule with Him in the consumated and glorified new creation. The ascension helps me to reconcile the remaining sin and falleness and depravity that is visibly prevalent with the fact and knowledge that when He returns every knee shall bow and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Evangelism is not so much persuading someone to invite Jesus into their heart, but rather a proclamation to be believed and embraced - that He already is reigning; that Jesus already is the risen King.

Another amazing factor in the theology of the ascension which I had not previously studied or have not heard much about is why it matters that Jesus, as a man, risen to the right hand of the Father should matter at all practically. For me, this teaching is the beginning of a healing of a wound, or a sealing of a gap theologically perhaps. The authors say that we are not on hold and that we are not on pause in our experience of the already and the not yet. Wesley Hill wrote about his experience caught between the times in "Washed and Waiting" in a vivid and heartfelt manner with which I could personally identify. Chester and Woodrow connect the dots and bridge the gap by unfolding the doctrine of ascension.

Several weeks ago, when I first began to explore and question the meaning of Ephesians 2:6 and how I might better understand what it meant, I had no idea that stumbling upon the doctrine of the ascension in such a well-written little paperback would be so enjoyable and rewarding. I look forward to digging deeper into the ascension in the future, but for now, I highly recommend that anyone who is unfamiliar with these ideas, or anyone perhaps perplexed by the mystery of humanity in the presence of God, to get this book, read it and pass it on to someone else!

The Ascension: Humanity in Presence of God from TCH Sheffield on Vimeo.

For further study: The Man Christ Jesus: Theological Reflections on the Humanity of Christ by Bruce Ware on sale via Amazon Kindle.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Reading with Challies: Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices

In case you haven't heard, Tim Challies announced the next book title for his Reading the Classics Together  reading program. The title is Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices by Thomas Brooks. It is available for free download at a number of websites. I found my version at:

This will be one interesting and intense read, if the table of contents is any indication. Check it out:

The Epistle Dedicatory
A Word to the Reader

II. SATAN'S DEVICES TO DRAW THE SOUL TO SIN [12 devices and their remedies]
1. By presenting the bait and hiding the hook: For remedies, consider that
1) we ought to keep at the greatest distance from sin and from playing with the bait
2) sin is but a bitter sweet
3) sin will usher in the greatest and the saddest losses
4) sin is very deceitful and bewitching
2. By painting sin with virtue's colors: For remedies, consider that
1) sin is never the less vile by being so painted
2) the more sin is so painted the more dangerous it is
3) we ought to look on sin with that eye with which within a few hours we shall see it
4) sin cost the life-blood of the Lord Jesus

3. By the extenuating and lessening of sin: For remedies, consider that
1) sin which men account small brings God's great wrath on men
2) the giving way to a less sin makes way for the committing of a greater
3) it is sad to stand with God for a trifle
4) often there is most danger in the smallest sins
5) the saints have chosen to suffer greatly rather than commit the least sin
6) the soul can never stand under the guilt and weight of sin when God sets it home upon the soul
7) there is more evil in the least sin than in the greatest affliction
4. By showing to the soul the best men's sins and by hiding from the soul their virtues, their sorrows, and their repentance: For remedies, consider that
1) the Spirit of God records not only the sins of the saints, but also their repentance
2) these saints did not make a trade of sin
3) though God does not disinherit his sinning people, He punishes them severely
4) God has two main ends in recording the falls of His saints

5. By presenting God to the soul as One made up all of mercy: For remedies, consider
1) It is the sorest of judgments to be left to sin upon any pretense whatever
2) God is as just as He is merciful
3) sins against mercy will bring the greatest and sorest judgments on men
4) though God's general mercy is over all His works, yet His special mercy is confined to those that are divinely qualified
5) the saints now glorified regarded God's mercy as a most powerful argument against, and not for, sin
6. By persuading the soul that repentance is easy and that therefore the soul need not scruple about sinning: For remedies, consider that
1) repentance is a difficult work above our own power
2) repentance changes and converts the whole man from sin to God
3) repentance is a continued act
4) if repentance were easy, the lack of it would not strike millions with terror and drive them to hell
5) to repent of sin is as great a mark of grace as not to sin
6) Satan now suggests that repentance is easy, but shortly he will drive his dupes to despair by presenting it as the hardest work in the world

7. By making the soul bold to venture upon the occasions of sin: For remedies, consider
1) certain scriptures expressly command us to avoid occasions of sin and the least appearance of evil
2) there is no conquest over sin unless the soul turns from the occasions of sin
3) saints now glorified have turned from the occasions of sin as from hell itself
4) to avoid the occasions of sin is an evidence of grace
8. By representing to the soul the outward mercies enjoyed by men walking in sin, and their freedom from outward miseries: For remedies, consider that
1) we cannot judge of how the heart of God stands towards a man by the acts of His providence
2) nothing provokes God's wrath so much as men's abuse of His goodness and mercy
3) there is no greater curse or affliction in this life than not to be in misery or affliction
4) the wants of evil men are far greater than their outward blessings
5) outward things are not as they seem, nor as they are esteemed
6) God has ends and designs in giving evil men outward mercies and present rest from sorrows and sufferings that cause saints to sigh
7) God often plagues and punishes those whom others think He most spares and loves
8) God will call evil men to a strict account for all the outward good that they have enjoyed

9. By presenting to the soul the crosses, losses, sorrows and sufferings that daily attend those who walk in the ways of holiness: For remedies, consider that
1) all afflictions suffered by Christians turn to their profit
2) all such afflictions only reach their worst, not their best, part
3) all such afflictions are short and momentary
4) all such afflictions proceed from God's dearest love
5) it is our duty and glory to measure afflictions not by the smart but by the end
6) God's design in saints' afflictions is to try, not to ruin, their souls
7) the afflictions, wrath and misery consequent upon wickedness are far worse than those linked with holiness
10. By causing saints to compare themselves and their ways with those reputed to be worse than themselves: For remedies, consider that
1) to be quick-sighted abroad and blind at home proves a man a hypocrite
2) it is far better to compare our internal and external actions with the Word than to compare ourselves with others worse than ourselves
3) though our sins may not appear as great as those of others, yet without repentance responding to mercy, we shall be as certainly damned as others

11. By polluting the souls and judgments of men with dangerous errors that lead to looseness and wickedness: For remedies, consider that
1) an erroneous vain mind is as odious to God as a wicked life
2) it is needful to receive the truth affectionately and plenteously
3) error makes its owner suffer loss
4) it is needful to hate and reject all doctrines that are contrary to godliness, that lead to self-righteousness, and that make good works co-partners with Christ
5) it is needful to hold fast the truth
6) it is needful to keep humble
7) errors have been productive of great evils
12. By leading men to choose wicked company: For remedies, consider that
1) there are express commands of God to shun such company
2) wicked company is infectious and dangerous
3) it is needful to look upon the wicked in such terms as Scripture describes them
4) the company of wicked men was once a grief and burden also to saints now glorified
1. By presenting the world in such a garb as to ensnare the soul: For remedies, consider that
1) all things here below are impotent and weak
2) they are also full of vanity
3) all things under the sun are uncertain and mutable
4) the great things of the world are hurtful to men owing to the corruption of their hearts
5) all the felicity of this world is mixed
6) it is needful to get better acquainted with, and assurance of, more blessed and glorious things
7) true happiness and satisfaction does not arise from worldly good
8) the value and dignity of the soul is to be a subject of contemplation
2 By presenting to the soul the dangers, losses and sufferings that accompany the performance of certain religious duties: For remedies, consider that
1) all such troubles cannot harm the true Christian
2) saints now glorified encountered such dangers, but persevered to the end
3) all such dangers are but for a moment, whereas the neglect of the service of God lays the Christian open to spiritual and eternal dangers
4) God knows how to deliver from troubles by troubles, from dangers by dangers
5) In the service of God, despite troubles and afflictions, the gains outweigh the losses
3. By presenting to the soul the difficulty of performing religious duties: For remedies,
consider that
1) it is better to regard the necessity of the duty than the difficulty of it
2) the Lord Jesus will reveal Himself to the obedient soul and thus make the service easy
3) the Lord Jesus has Himself engaged in hard service and in suffering for your temporal and eternal good
4) religious duties are only difficult to the worse, not to the more noble part of a saint
5) a glorious recompense awaits saints who serve the Lord in the face of difficulties and discouragements
4. By causing saints to draw false inferences from the blessed and glorious things that Christ has done: For remedies, consider that
1) it is as needful to dwell as much upon scriptures that state Christian duty as upon those that speak of the glorious things that Christ has done for us
2) the glorious things that Christ has done and is now doing for us should be our strongest motives and encouragements for the performance of our duties
3) other precious souls who have rested on Christ's work have been very active and lively in religious duties
4) those who do not walk in God's ways cannot have such evidence of their righteousness before God as can those who rejoice in the service of the Lord
5) duties are to be esteemed not by their acts but by their ends
5. By presenting to view the fewness and poverty of those who hold to religious practices: For remedies, consider that
1) though saints are outwardly poor, they are inwardly rich
2) in all ages God has had some that have been rich, wise and honorable
3) spiritual riches infinitely transcend temporal riches, and satisfy the poorest saints
4) saints now appear to be 'a little flock', but they belong to a company that cannot be numbered
5) it is but as a day before these despised saints will shine brighter than the sun
6) the time will come even in this life when God will take away the reproach and contempt of His people, and make those the 'head' who have been the 'tail'
6. By showing saints that the majority of men make light of God's ways and walk in the ways of their own hearts: For remedies, consider that
1) certain scriptures warn against following the sinful examples of men
2) those who sin with the multitude will suffer with the multitude
3) the soul of a man is of more worth than heaven and earth
7. By casting in vain thoughts while the soul is seeking God or waiting on God: For remedies, consider that
1) the God with whom we have to do is great, holy, majestic and glorious
2) despite wandering thoughts it is needful to be resolute in religious service
3) vain and trifling thoughts that Satan casts into our souls are not sins if they are abhorred, resisted and disclaimed
4) watching against, resisting and lamenting sinful thoughts evidences grace and the sincerity of our hearts
5) we must labor to be filled with the fullness of God and enriched with all spiritual blessings
6) we must labor to keep up holy and spiritual affections
7) we must labor to avoid multiplicity of worldly business
8. By tempting Christians to rest in their performances: For remedies, consider that
1) our choicest services have their imperfection and weaknesses
2) our choicest services are unable to minister comfort and aid in days of trouble
3) good works, if rested upon, will as certainly destroy us as the greatest sins that we commit
4) God has met our need of a resting place in Christ Himself
1. By causing saints to remember their sins more than their Savior, yes, even to forget and neglect their Savior: For remedies, consider that
1) though Jesus Christ has not freed believers from sin's presence, He has freed them from its damnatory power
2) though Jesus Christ has not freed believers from the vexing and molesting power of sin, He has freed them from the reign and dominion of sin
3) it is needful to keep one eye on the promise of remission of sin, and the other eye on the inward operations of sin
4) believers' sins have been charged to the account of Christ as debts which He has fully satisfied
5) the Lord has good reasons for allowing His people to be troubled with sinful corruption
6) believers must repent of their being discouraged by their sins
2. By causing saints to make false definitions of their graces: For remedies, consider
1) there may be true faith, even great faith, where there is no assurance
2) the Scriptures define faith other than Satan tempts the saints to define it
3) there may be true faith where there is much doubting
4) assurance is an effect of faith, not faith itself

3. By causing saints to make false inferences from the cross actings of Providence: For remedies, consider that
1) many things, though contrary to our desires, are not contrary to our good
2) God's hand may be against a man when His love and His heart are set upon him
3) Cross providences are sent by God to work some noble good for saints
4) all the strange and deep providences that believers meet with further them in their way to heaven

4. By suggesting to saints that their graces are not true, but counterfeit: For remedies, consider that
1) grace may mean either the good will and favor of God, or the gifts of grace
2) there are differences between renewing grace and restraining grace, between sanctifying and temporary grace (to particulars given)
5. By suggesting to saints that the conflict that is in them is found also in hypocrites and profane souls: For remedies, consider that
1) the whole frame of a believer's soul is against sin
2) a saint conflicts against sin universally, the least sin as well as the greatest
3) the conflict in a saint is maintained for several reasons
4) the saint's conflict is constant
5) the saint's conflict is within the same faculties
6) the saint's conflict is blessed, successful and prevailing
6. By suggesting to the saint who has lost joy and comfort that his state is not good:
For remedies, consider that
1) the loss of comfort is a separable adjunct from grace
2) the precious things still enjoyed are far better than the joys and comforts lost
3) the glorified saints were once in the same condition
4) the causes of joy and comfort are not always the same
5) God will restore the comforts of His people

7. By reminding the saint of his frequent relapses into sin formerly repented of and prayed against: For remedies, consider that
1) many scriptures show that such relapses have troubled saints
2) God nowhere promises that such relapses will not happen
3) the most renowned of glorified saints have, on earth, experienced such relapses
4) relapses into enormities must be distinguished from relapses into infirmities
5) involuntary and voluntary relapses must be distinguished
6) no experience of the soul, however deep or high, can in itself secure the soul against relapses
8. By persuading saints that their state is not good nor their graces sound: For remedies, consider that
1) the best of Christians have been most tempted by Satan
2) all the saints' temptations are sanctified to them by a hand of love
3) temptations cannot harm the saints as long as they are resisted by them
THE WORLD [5 devices and their remedies]

1. By causing them to seek greatness, position, riches and security: For remedies, consider that
1) self-seeking sets men upon sins against the law, the Gospel, and Nature itself
2) self-seeking exceedingly abases a man
3) the Word pronounces curses and woes against self-seekers
4) self-seekers are self-losers and self-destroyers
5) saints have denied self and set public good above personal advantage
6) self hinders the sight of divine things: hence prophets and apostles, when seeing visions, were carried out of themselves
2. By causing them to act against the people of the Most High: For remedies, consider that
1) all who have acted against the saints have been ruined by the God of saints
2) the Scriptures show that God gives victory to His people against their enemies
3) to fight against the people of God is to fight against God Himself
4) men of the world owe their preservation from instant ruin, under God, to the saints
By moving them to pride themselves on their parts and abilities, and to despise men of greater grace but inferior abilities: For remedies, consider that
1) men have nothing but what they have received, gifts as well as saving grace coming alike from Christ
2) men's trusting to their parts and abilities has been their utter ruin
3) you do not transcend others more in parts and abilities than they do you in grace and holiness
4) men who pride themselves on their gifts and set themselves against the saints will find that God blasts and withers their gifts
By dividing them and causing them to 'bite and devour one another.' For remedies, consider that
1) it is better to dwell on the saints' graces rather than on their weaknesses and infirmities
2) love and union best promote safety and security
3) God commands and requires the saints to love one another
4) it is better to eye the things in which saints agree rather than those things wherein they differ
5) God is the God of peace, Christ the Prince of peace, and the Spirit the Spirit of peace
6) it is needful for the saints to make more care and conscience of maintaining their peace with God
7) it is needful to dwell much upon the relationship and union of the people of God
8) discord is productive of miseries
9) it is good and honorable to be the first in seeking peace and reconcilement
10) saints should agree well together, making the Word the only touchstone and judge of their words and actions
11) saints should be much in self-judging
12) saints should labor to be clothed with humility
By causing them to affect ignorance and to neglect and despise the means of knowledge: For remedies, consider that
1) an ignorant heart is an evil heart
2) ignorance is the deformity of the soul
3) ignorance makes men objects of God's hatred and wrath
4) ignorance is a sin that leads to all sins

1. By suggesting to men the greatness and vileness of their sins [Eight Remedies]
2. By suggesting to sinners their unworthiness [Four Remedies]
3. By suggesting to sinners their want of certain preparations and qualifications [Three Remedies]
4. By suggesting to sinners that Christ Is unwilling to save them [Six Remedies]
5. By causing sinners to give more attention to the secret decrees and counsels of God than to their own duty [Two Remedies]

point added]

"Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's
schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against
the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of
evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the
day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done
everything, to stand."
Ephesians 6:11-13

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Strange Fire: The Fear of the Lord

In keeping with my post from yesterday on highlighting the great fact that the wrath of God was satisfied on the cross by Jesus Christ, R.C. Sproul takes us yet another step further in his article called Strange Fire. Here is an excerpt:

"One aspect of the modern church ... is that believers are no longer encouraged to have a healthy fear of God. We seem to assume that the fear of the Lord is something that belonged to the Old Testament period and is not to be a part of the life of the Christian. But fear of God involves not simply a trembling before His wrath, but a sense of reverence and awe because of His glorious holiness.
"Even though we are living on the finished side of the cross, the fear of the Lord is still the beginning of wisdom (Ps. 111:10a). God is still a consuming fire, a jealous God (Deut. 4:24). When we come into His presence, we are to come as children, as those who have been reconciled, but there is to be a godly fear inspired by respect for the One with whom we are dealing."
-R.C. Sproul, Strange Fire, Ligonier Ministries

Monday, May 6, 2013

The wrath of God was satisfied

The PC(USA), in updating their denominational hymnal, recently voted to exclude the contemporary hymn "In Christ Alone" because the original authors would not agree to let the denomination change  one line in the second stanza (Ref: http://www.christiancentury.org/article/2013-04/debating-hymns). The specific line is found in the title of this post: "The wrath of God was satisfied". The PC(USA) had wanted to change the line just after "Till on that cross as Jesus died" to "The love of God was magnified." This seemingly minute change struck me as awefully important and immensely subversive to the message of the Gospel truth.

As I've spoken to a number of men and women who will call themselves Christians, but who struggle with the institutional church and orthodox teaching, the problem of evil invariably surfaces as a sticking point or area of doubt. This is ironically often followed by an ensuing discussion of the topic of God's wrath and the concept of hell and eternal damnation&nbsp. "How can a good and loving God punish people made in His image?" they will ask. Such a question truly highlights the frailty of our reasoning, since the problem of evil and the doctrine of God's wrath are intricately woven together. The same person who in a previous moment demonstrates a sort of self-righteous indignation about why evil exists and what should be done about it, in the next sentence rejects our Father's gracious solution - the Good News - as revealed in His Son Jesus Christ.
It would seem that many of us, and I include myself in this number, suffer more from the fear of man than the fear of the Lord. I would rather tell someone who doesn't know Christ, or someone who is backsliding from the faith, that the cross is only about God's love and mercy. Unfortunately, such a half-truth misses perhaps the most important piece of the Gospel, which is precisely why it specifically had to be Jesus' death on the cross that atoned for our sins.

Cosmic treason against our holy, perfect Creator and life-giver is an infinitely and eternally serious act. If I believe that my disobedience and sin can be simply swept under the carpet and erased without being dealt with and paid for, then that is just unhelpful, cheap grace. It's tempting to offer people the cheap grace way out of sin and guilt. But the problem is that if we only hold out God's love in this way and forget what it cost Him, we won't understand the depth of His love and nature of His grace - unmerited favor. The gift of God - eternal life - cost Christ the bitter cup of death on the cross so that we might walk free. To try to erase the depth of what Christ endured for us on the cross by wiping out the wrath of God and the equivalent of eternal damnation, is to mischaracterize the Christian faith. To do so is to wrongly succomb to the fear of man and to deny a true and proper fear of God. Since I talk to a lot of people outside the church, I do actually find myself doing this at times, sorry to say. When I do, I'm withholding perhaps the most beautiful and important aspect of the Gospel Good News. So, today I'm reminded, confessing, repententing, and encouraging others not to succomb to fear of man.

Here are the lyrics to the wonderful hymn that brought this all to mind today:

In Christ alone my hope is found;
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all—
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone, Who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save.
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied;
For ev'ry sin on Him was laid—
Here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain;
Then bursting forth in glorious day,
Up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory,
Sin's curse has lost its grip on me;
For I am His and He is mine—
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death—
This is the pow'r of Christ in me;
From life's first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow'r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home—
Here in the pow'r of Christ I'll stand.

"In Christ Alone"
Words and Music by Keith Getty & Stuart Townend
Copyright © 2001 Kingsway Thankyou Music

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Great Commission: Is it Legalism?

Anthony Bradley writing for World Magazine's blog calls out the contemporary church movement that beckons comfortable middle class Christians to become more "missional" and even "radical" as a new form of legalism. In some respects, I agree with him 100%. I've been involved with previous churches where the just-out-of-seminary assistant pastor will come up with all of these programs and campaigns to motivate young and old to become active in helping out with the needy outside of the church. As with many well-intended church activities, it doesn't take long for good ideas to go off the tracks or get misdirected.

My friend and I took a homeless man who is a Christian and living in his car to dinner one night a few months ago. We wanted to encourage him, to see how we could pray for him, and if there was anything that we could do to assist him in his journey to find long-term reliable employment. He told us how much he was enjoying the music and the preaching at the church that he attends every Sunday, but that he felt bewildered with their drive toward becoming missional and radical. During a small group meeting he had explained his current situation and asked for prayer and support in his walk with the Lord. Several of the small group members recommended that he needed to get active with outreach by going with them to work with the homeless at the soup kitchen.

So here we have a homeless man, in need of spiritual prayer and God's grace, and is told that he should get involved with the church's homeless ministry if he wanted his walk with God to grow. From my perspective, this example is a good illustration of what can go wrong in the "radical" movement. Just because someone has made into the church, even as a church member, doesn't mean that they have been automatically equipped. Sheep need to be fed. We can only give to others what we've received ourselves.

Our outreach and desire to minister to the poor cannot be seen as an ultimate thing or an end in itself. The worship of our glorious God in spirit and truth as we come together as the body of Christ is both our starting point and our trajectory for this type of ministry. If we don't see ourselves first as poor and needy, at the foot of the cross, it is not too long before our missional and radical motives turn into superiority complexes - or worse yet, God complexes. We may get a good feeling high from doing good and helping someone, but it doesn't honor the Lord and it won't help us grow.

Along with this, we have to always remember that mercy ministry begins with the household of God. Every Sunday, the Lord gathers His sheep into the fold. Sometimes, we don't have to go looking for the people who need our care. Often times they're standing right in front of us, waving their arms, saying "help me". In our blindness, we can actually miss the work God has already given us.

All of that said, I'm a big fan of cultivating a missional mindset and challenging myself not to get complacent wearing out a groove in the pew. Finding the right balance and proper amount of wisdom is journey for all of us, and I'm incredibly blessed that the church I'm in now is committed to doing all of these things in accordance with God's Word and not in human strenghth.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Getting Back in the Game + Resource Round Up

Getting Back into Blogging

After taking a break from the blog for a couple of months, I thought it was time to decide whether it would be best to shut things down or to get started back up. Well, after prayer and reflection, I've decided that I've got too much good stuff going on not to share some insights with anyone who might be interested.

So, going forward, I plan to write on a few of the following themes and topics:

First, Book Reviews. Since the beginning of 2013, I've read more than 20 books and have at least another 20 on the coffee table, waiting to be read. So, I'd like to share some of the incredibly helpful resources and accompanying insights gleaned.

In addition, our church has held or hosted several seminars and conferences since January: the Winter Bible Conference, the PresWIC Annual Women's Conference, our own Women's Retreat and the OneCry University Event for the University of Delaware campus ministries. Great teaching, awesome fellowship, and amazing worship was enjoyed by all who attended these events. If I can pass on even a speck of what I've learned from each of these, I'm sure it will help me and hopefully someone else...

Another thing I plan to do is a periodic round up of article links containing what I've found to be the most thought-provoking and helpful. The bottom of this post will kick things off.

And finally, I'd like to generate a few articles that address my own thinking about how the Church publicly interacts with some of our more pressing contemporary issues.

 To kick things off, below is a round up of some good articles that I've come across lately. I hope you'll enjoy them!

Resource Round Up

From HeadHeartHand: The Problem with Mental Illness David Murray looks at mental illness from both sides: the disease and the sin. The complex mix of physical, mental, and spiritual aspects that are intertwined are examined.

Tim Keller discusses one of the biggest obstacles to revival inside and outside of our churches in an Q&A session with The Gospel Coalition (his answer is probably not what you expect)

From The Aquila Report, T. David Gordon writes about The Politics of Rights and Ressentiment (no, that's not a typo :) Nietzsche introduced the French term to us - you'll have to read the article to find out how it all fits together. It's a very interesting and helpful way of looking at this issue. Enjoy.

Clearly, this IS The Most Important Message. Why do we often avoid it, miss it, or assume it? It's always great to be reminded (can anyone say Gospel Amnesia?).

Jim Hamilton at For His Renown challenges our contemporary Evangelical assumptions that The Song of Songs is primarily about human love in Intended Allegory. From his summary paragraph:
"The Song of Songs is a poetic summary and interpretation of the Bible’s big story: the descendant of David—king of Israel about whom the promises of 2 Samuel 7 were made .... who initiated the new covenant between himself and his bride, the church, and who will return for the grand consummation when the Bride herself, the new Jerusalem, will descend from heaven having the glory of God (Rev 21:9–11)."
Call me boring or a prude, but that sounds way, way more awesome, encouraging, comforting, fulfilling and powerful than the literalistic view that sees The Song of Songs as only about or primarily about human relationship.

The doctrine and reality of sanctification should be a great source of joy to us - not taken for granted. Great article from Rebecca VanDoodewaard!

Towards a More Informed Gender Debate by Bart Gingerich who graduated from Patrick Henry College and serves as a Research Assistant at the Institute on Religion and Democracy. These are his key points, but make sure you read his article, as he does a thorough and helpful job of building them out for us:
1. Make sure your historical picture is accurate.
2. Eschew Whiggery.
3. Beware the bandying of “Biblical.”
4. Look at how you view human society before asserting a position.
5. Avoid caricatures.

I guess that's a pretty good start. Hopefully, I'll have a chance to get some of my book reviews going next... Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Troubled State of the Christian Message

This is a very important and much needed article! One of the reasons why I've slacked up on blogging is because I've been so incredibly disillusioned with the quality of Christian blogging as of late, and as a result, I've entirely lack any motivation to be active in the blogosphere. Well, finally, I've found an article that hits the pulse of my disillusionment. I'm reprinting in full here, because everything is said so perfectly. Enjoy!

The Troubled State of Christian Preaching

What Giglio got right and the church often gets wrong.
Photo courtesy of Passion Conferences
Today we celebrate the second inauguration of President Obama, but we do so without the benediction of pastor Louie Giglio. In the controversy that erupted after his selection to and withdrawal from that honor, it became clear again how much the gospel has been sidelined, not in the culture, but in the church.
Given the ubiquity and gravity of sex in our culture, it's not surprising that sexual ethics was at the center of the controversy. Giglio was initially invited by the President's inauguration committee in part because of his work against sexual trafficking, and then encouraged to withdraw because of his sermon condemning homosexual behavior. The national indignation, especially of those sympathetic to the LGBT community, about this sermon was matched by the indignation of many evangelicals at the pressure applied to Giglio to withdraw.

As these things go, the specter of "persecution" was raised. It nearly goes without saying—and yet it must be said again—that Giglio is not going to jail, let alone was he manhandled or murdered for his faith. We can continue to be grateful that we live in a nation where one of the worst things that can happen to a Christian for articulating a Christian ethic is that he is pressured to not pray at a national event.

What Is Our Gospel?

That being said, the incident raises the question about the exact nature of the gospel we have communicated to this culture. David Kinnaman's UnChristian signaled that many Christians have concluded the big problem is that the evangelical church has aligned itself on the wrong side of some social issues, or with social issues that have little or no cultural cachet—and thus they move to champion more popular social causes to win a hearing for the gospel. It would uncharitable and unfair to suggest that Giglio and his church have done this, but if other evangelicals are like me, it remains a temptation for any who have a heart to introduce Jesus to others.

Sometimes it works, as Giglio's invitation to pray suggests. But as a strategy, it will invariably backfire, no matter how much we try to hide our work on unpopular causes, as the fury against Giglio's 20-year-old sermon illustrates. The degree to which we employ this approach merely as a tactic to gain a hearing is the degree to which we will eventually be spurned by the very people we hope to attract.
In the long run, we cannot gain a hearing for the gospel through our admirable ethics or social justice because in the end, we are still sinners, with hearts, as the prophet Jeremiah put it, that remain desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9). When we do live well or accomplish a social good, we will be admired for our moral success, not because Jesus died to save a rebellious world. And when we fail to live up to our values—and we invariably will--well, we will look like every other sinner on the planet. Not much of a witness there, except to our humanity.

In the end, we cannot gain a hearing for the gospel because God has already done so in the preaching of the Cross—there is no more dramatic, arresting, attention getting "tactic" than that. Note the response to such preaching as describe by Paul in 1 Corinthians: some were scandalized, and others thought it foolishness, but for some, it was their very salvation. But in every case, the preaching of the cross made a hearing for itself.

In the end, we cannot gain a hearing for the gospel because God has already done so in the preaching of the Cross—there is no more dramatic, arresting, attention getting "tactic" than that.

Who Is First and Last?

Looking at how this message scandalized the ancient world opens a window into our preaching today. When the culture takes issue with the church today, it carps about our oppressive sexual ethics (especially our opposition to homosexual behavior) and our various prosperity gospels (from the most egregious health-and-wealth messages to the more subtle but equally dangerous sermons on how faith in Christ can improve your marriage, your business, and your self-esteem). And then there is the regular complaint about our self-righteousness—our incessant habit of pronouncing judgment on our culture, which is grounded in the assumption that sinners are found mostly in that culture, outside the church walls. Thus all the sermons about how we need to reform and stand against the culture, as if the "we" is in no need of fundamental reform, or that the Lord does not have a controversy with his people.

In the New Testament era, by contrast, the big problem was the scandal of the Cross. It's not hard to see why. Among the many things the Cross says is this: We're as dead as Jesus. He hangs there as the true human, the sign of all humanity, dead to the world, dead to the future, and especially dead to God, who it seems has forsaken us. The situation is so bad that only the sacrifice of Another—again Jesus, who hangs there as true God—can remedy it. For people like us, who imagine we're not so much dead as suffering a cold, and that if we take our vitamin C and will ourselves out of bed, we can make a go of it—well, this verdict can sound unnerving. Worse, to be told we can do nothing to revive ourselves, that we are left completely at the mercy of this Other—well, this doesn't sit well in any culture, let alone in a culture that prizes individual initiative and heroic effort.

It's interesting that our culture is rarely scandalized by this preaching of the Cross. That's probably because it is a rare theme of Christian preaching these days. Instead we have been smitten with practical preaching that helps people become successful in life and business, and with ethical preaching that tells people how to live better. This is done for the noblest of reasons—to show the gospel relevant to people's daily needs, but one can see where this has gotten us. When the Cross is preached, it is often preached in a way that falls on deaf ears. It's seen as a theme for theologians to wax eloquent about with strange words like propitiation and justification, or something comforting to guilt-ridden religious types—but meaningless to regular human beings.

Even when we try to make Jesus first, we end up inadvertently making ourselves first. Giglio noted his priorities when he said, "Clearly, speaking on this issue [homosexuality] has not been in the range of my priorities in the past fifteen years. Instead, my aim has been to call people to ultimate significance as we make much of Jesus Christ." Giglio is exactly right. Unfortunately, in a desire to reach the world for Christ, some inadvertently reverse Giglio's priorities and make much about our ultimate significance. Jesus becomes merely the means by which we feel better about our place in the universe. Need purpose and meaning? Follow Jesus, that will do the trick. In this subtle shift, we become the first and the last, the Alpha and the Omega.

We tend to think that postmoderns have brought relativism down upon us, but it seems we Christians have been the culprits the more we make our message about meeting people's needs.
Need-driven preaching—even of the highest order, that is, our search for significance—communicates that Jesus is just another way to solve our problems. It is no wonder that the culture looks at us, pats us on the head, and says, "But we've found other, equally valid ways to solve our problems, thank you." We tend to think that postmoderns have brought relativism down upon us, but it seems, we Christians have been the culprits the more we make our message about meeting people's needs.

The most needful and difficult task of the church today is to again preach the message of the Cross, and to do so in a way that alarms, surprises, scandalizes, challenges, invigorates, and inspires a 21st century world. What that would look like exactly is hard to say; our theologians and pastors need to help us here. In the most general terms, it has to be about Christ first and last. It has to be about the Christ who came into the world not to improve generally good people, but to resurrect the dead, not to bolster our self-esteem but to forgive us, not to make people successful but to make them loving, not to win the culture but to establish a kingdom without end. Even more scandalously, the message of the Cross is about a universe saturated with grace, where nothing we have done or can do earns us the right to participate in this stunning new reality; all has been done for us. The best we can do is acknowledge the reality (faith) and begin to live as if it is reality (repent).
The current state of our preaching is driven by an admirable desire to show our age the relevance of the gospel. But our recent attempts have inadvertently turned that gospel into mere good advice—about sex, about social ethics, about how to live successfully. This either offends or bores our culture. A renewed focus on the Cross, articulated in a culturally intelligent way, is the only way forward. Some will be scandalized by it, others will call it foolishness, and yet some will cling to it as salvation. But at least everyone will be talking about that which is truly First and Last.

(Mark Galli is editor of Christianity Today.)