Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Thomas Chalmers

This past weekend, I finished a biography on Thomas Chalmers, the 19th-century Church of Scotland evangelical who was the main impetus behind the creation of the Free Church of Scotland in 1843. Authored by Stewart Brown, professor of ecclesiastical history at Edinburgh, Thomas Chalmers and the Godly Commonwealth (1982) suggested that Chalmers' true importance came from his attempt to renew Scottish society through the extension and intensification of the parish system. By limiting parishes to cover 2000 people and a spate of new church building, ministers and elders would be able to care directly for the needs of working class and transient poor through a visitation system that extended the church's poor relief directly to the needs of the people.

Chalmers' dream, however, was crushed ultimately through the failure of the British government to endow ministerial salaries for the new churches and to fund the building of new church structures. In addition, the government argued in the 1840s that the church was actually subordinate to the state--when the state provided incomes for ministers and funded churches, then the state (through the agency of landed heirators who placed ministers in their livings) had the right to dictate to the church even in "spiritual" or ecclesiastical matters. As a result, Chalmers' vision was caught on twin horns: needing government financial support truly to succeed; and yet desiring to avoid governmental interference with what it funds.

This well-wrought book raised all sorts of questions for me on matters as wide-ranging as the nature of the church's social involvement; the character of the "spiritual" nature and mission of the church; the relationship between church and state in situations of establishment; and the character of Chalmers himself, who despite his notable achievements was a profoundly flawed and not very likable individual (at least, in this presentation). It caused me to desire more, both about the period in the United Kingdom (next will be Roy Jenkins' Gladstone) as well as about Chalmers and his effect on Christianity in Scotland into the present day.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The shed blood of Christ: the foundation of Christianity

Another timely word from Horatius Bonar, in "Christ is All": The Piety of Horatius Bonar, ed. Michael A. G. Haykin and Darrin R. Brooker (2007), 79-80:

What is Christianity? Not metaphysics, not mysticism, not a compliation of guesses at truth. It is the history of the seed of the woman--that seed the Word made flesh--the Word made flesh, the revelation of the invisible Jehovah, the representative of the eternal God, the medium of communication between the Creator and the creature, between earth and heaven.

And of this Christianity, what is the essential characteristic, the indispensable feature from first to last? Is it incarnation or blood-shedding? Is it the cradle or the cross? Is it the scene at Bethlehem or at Golgotha? Assuredly the latter! "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani," is no mere outcry of suffering nature, the cross is no mere scene of human martyrdom, and the great sepulchre is no mere Hebrew tomb. It is only through blood-shedding that conscience is purged; it is only at the cross that the sinner can meet with God; it is the cross that knits heaven and earth together; it is the cross that bears up the collapsing universe; it is the pierced hand that holds the golden sceptre; it is at Calvary that we find the open gate of Paradise regained, and the gospel is good news to the sinner, of liberty to enter in.

Let men, with the newly sharpened axes of rationalism, do their utmost to hew down that cross; it will stand in spite of them. Let them apply their ecclesiastical paint-brush, and daub it all over with the most approved of medieval pigments to cover its nakedness, its glory will shine through all. Let them scoff at the legal transference of the sinner's guilt to a divine substitute, and of that Surety's righteousness to the sinner, as a Lutheran delusion, or a Puritan fiction, that mutual transference, that wondrous exchange, will be found to be wrapped up with Christianity itself. Let those who, like Cain of old, shrink from the touch of sacrificial blood and mock the "religion of the shambles," purge their consciences with the idea of God's universal Fatherhood, and try to wash their robes and make them white in something else than the blood of the Lamb.

To us, as to the saints of other days, there is but one purging of the conscience, one security for pardon, one way of access, one bond of reconciliation, one healing of our wounds, the death of Him on whom the chastisement of our peace was laid, and one everlasting song, "unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood" (Rev. 1:5).

Sunday, April 27, 2008

How can I bless my pastor?

From John Piper:

Lead somebody to Christ. Live a holy life. Don't lose your faith when you get cancer. Bring up your kid to love Christ. Do something radical for missions.

The common denominator for all of those is that you prove by your life that I haven't wasted mine.

Don't give me a Rolls-Royce when I turn sixty. I would've wasted my life if you think you're blessing me with some big financial gift when I'm sixty. I want to see your life changed. I want to see you pour yourself out for others. And I'm sure that's what you're asking about.

I get in prayer meetings and listen to my people pray, and I say, "That's what I'm living for."

They're holding on to Jesus. Life is falling apart for them over here, but they're not giving up on the Lord. They're rejoicing in him. Or I hear a man tell about how he shared Christ at his work.

Those are the things that make a pastor endure anything.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Parker 51

This past week, while with friends at Westminster Seminary California, I discovered a minor-level cult--no, not what you might originally think (whatever that may be; fill in the blank). Rather, there are devotees of a particular pen made in the 1940s and 1950s: the Parker 51. My friend, Julius Kim, graciously has given me one and now I am part of the faithful: I've been surfing the internet, trying to find out more about the pen, looking for ink, studying the differences between vacumatic and aeromatic (check out the website; it tells you)--there is even a book about the Parker 51. With my obsessive personality, I will probably be on ebay trying to acquire a cool one like that one Julius has, one that only US Generals had during World War II. Be cool, join the faithful, like me and others; find and use a Parker 51.

Friday, April 18, 2008

In Birmingham they love the (future) governor...

Charles Barkley hopes to begin his future gubernatorial career first as mayor of Leeds, Alabama, just outside of Birmingham.

Wanderings in the Wilderness

Next week, I'm looking forward to being with friends and making new friends at Westminster Seminary California. I'll be giving two lectures, one in a class ("Jonathan Edwards and Federal Theology") and another in convocation ("The Only Hope for America: Southern Presbyterians, Billy Graham, and the Mission of the Church"). I'll also being leading a conversation on my essay, "Cruciform Friends," which you can find here, here, here, here and here. California really isn't the wilderness (or at least San Diego isn't); it only seems like it.

A couple of weeks ago, I was at the Twin Lakes Fellowship, which met outside Jackson, Mississippi. I'm so grateful to my friend, Ligon Duncan, for inviting me to be there and asking me to preach; it was great to be with brothers and friends who love Christ, his church, and his ordinary means of grace. You can find audio from the entire event here. Mississippi isn't really the wilderness either; in fact, one of my friends (a Yankee, actually) called it "the Mother Country." My great disappointment was not being able to get any BBQ while I was down; maybe next time.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Bragging...with gratitude

Just a little bit of braggin'--the new ESV Study Bible will have contributions from six of our biblical studies faculty:
  • Jack Collins (Old Testament editor; Psalms; Song of Solomon; "Theology of the Old Testament"; "How the NT Quotes and Interprets the Old");
  • Jay Sklar (Leviticus);
  • Brian Aucker (Joel, Micah, Haggai);
  • Hans Bayer (Mark);
  • David Chapman (NT Archeology editor; Hebrews; "The Roman Empire and the Greco-Roman World"; "Archeology, Ancient History, and the Reliability of the NT"); and
  • Greg Perry ("Old Testament Charts and Timelines").
It also has contributions by emeritus professor Bob Vasholz (Hosea) and current adjunct professors Ken Harris (Exodus; Proverbs) and Dan Doriani ("How to Interpret the Bible"). All of this makes me grateful and blessed to work with men like these--who love God's Word, proclaim its inerrancy, study it and the culture of the day, and contribute to the growth of God's Kingdom and Christ's Church through this effort. I can't wait to see the finished version!


As some may have noticed, I have joined the bloggers at Reformation21. For those who care, you can find the full blog interview, from which I've already snipped, here. I'm very much looking forward to participting in the conversations, although I've already learned to avoid that Rodney Trotter fellow, who is a bit smarmy and hangs out with bad characters.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Spirit-inspired Preaching

From William Still, The Work of the Pastor, pp. 14-15:

There is, of course, only one Teacher, the Holy Spirit. And if the Holy Spirit is not in our hearts, in our life, and in all our teaching of the Word of God (and He will not be if our characters are not being molded according to the moral and spiritual pattern of the Word), then we had better not open our mouths. For there is nothing so boring, stale, flat, and unprofitable as holy things retailed in the absence of the Spirit. This is one of the devil's most cunning tricks, to cause the Word of God to be dispensed by lazy, sleepy, moribund creatures, who find preaching the most burdensome part of their work and cannot help showing it.

I have heard people praying, praying, and teaching, and have been so desolated and my heart has been so opposed to the whole depressing exercise, that I have almost wished the things they said were not true so that I could refute them. The whole soul of man, even ungodly man, cries out against the Word of God as a dead thing. Where the Spirit of God is, there may and will be unpleasant manifestations, but there will not be boredom. Division there will be, some for and some against--that is another story--buy there will be life, and the Word of God will cut and melt ice, even if it confirms the unmeltability of some ice, which is even hardened by the Word of God. Change the metaphor to steel and you will understand what I am trying to say.

Things will happen. The preaching of the Word of God, when it flows through a living vessel dedicated utterly to the Master's use, is not only an event in the lives of those who hear it but becomes, first a decisive act, and then, necessary food for their souls. My whole concern in my work of trying to make pastors (and I have "made" too few, although I have had many men through my hands) is that they become men of God; then, the pastoral work will look after itself. It will still have to be done. But the man of God is made for that.

The question is: are you on the way to becoming men of God?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

On trading fidelity to past truth for present relevancy

Horatius Bonar, quoted in "Christ is All": The Piety of Horatius Bonar, ed. Michael A. G. Haykin and Darrin R. Brooker (2007), 31-3:

Some well-meaning theological literateurs, or rather amateur theologians, who patronize religion in their own way, are fain to warn us of the danger of not "keeping abreast of the age," as if we were imperilling Christianity by not being quite so learned in modern speculations as they are. We should like, certainly, to "keep abreast" of all that is true and good, either in this age or any other; but as to doing more than that, or singling out this age as being pre-eminently worthy of being kept abreast of, we hesitate.

To be "up to" all the errors, fallacies, speculations, fancies, mis-criticisms of the age, would be an achievement of no mean kind; and to require us to be "up to" all this under threat of endangering Christianity, or betraying the Bible, is an exaction which could only be made by men who think that religion is much beholden to them for their condescending patronage; and will be accepted by men who are timid about the stability of the cross of Christ if left unpropped by human wisdom; and who, besides, happen to have three or four lifetimes to spare. We may be in a condition for believing, and even defending the Bible, without have mastered the whole deistical literature of the last century or the present...

In attempting to "keep abreast of the age," there is some danger of falling short of other ages; and we are not sure but that the object of those who shake this phrase so complacently in our faces, both as a taunt and a threat, is to draw us off from the past altogether, as if the greater bulk of its literature were rude lumber, a mere drag upon progress...Old theological terms and Scripture phraseology are set aside, or spoken in an undertone, or used in a loose sense. Sharp adhesion to old doctrines is imbecility; and yet defined expression of the new is avoided, the mind of the age being in a transition state, unable to bear the whole of what the exact and honest exhibition of "advanced" Christianity would require to utter.

Many of our young men are more afraid of being reckoned Calvinistic than Platonic; they shrink from bold and definite statements of Reformation doctrine, lest they should be pronounced "not abreast of the age"--stereotyped, if not imbecile. Indefinite language, mystical utterances, negative or defective statements, which will save the speaker's or writer's orthodoxy without compromising his reputation for "intellect" and "liberality"--these are becoming common. Manya re doing their best to serve to masters, to preach two gospels, to subscribe two confessions of faith, to worship two Gods, to combine to religions, to grasp two worlds; they would fain be neither very evangelical nor very heretical.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Current Issues for the Church

[This is another answer from a blog interview that will be posted soon. Of course, if I keep posting my answers here, you may not want to read the blog interview there.]

I think the number one issue facing the church today, as it is in every age, is this: will God’s people genuinely delight in God in such a way that those around us will long to rejoice in God as well? Older southern Presbyterians used to say that the answer to the church’s and the nation’s ills was revival. While their conception of revival was probably objectionable and their focus on America’s welfare was probably misplaced, their intuition was right: without renewed affections for God that cause us to delight in him and find our satisfaction in him and that will spill over in delight in God’s people, creation, and calling, we can have doctrinal precision, hip and relevant churches, or profound cultural engagement—and nothing will happen. No one’s lives will be changed. And so, we must be, in John Owen’s words, “greedy for delight” in God. We must have the Word and Spirit, living and active in our hearts and lives, families and congregations.

Directly behind this in importance is this question: will younger people see Presbyterianism, not simply as a means for branding or credentialing, but as a biblical, and hence viable, identity for our postmodern world? I still cannot get over James Henley Thornwell’s comment, “We shall, therefore, endeavor to do what has never yet been adequately done—bring out the energies of our Presbyterian system of government.” Here we are, over 145 years after he wrote that, and we still have never seen the energies of Presbyterianism adequately brought to the fore. We still haven’t figured out what it means to be a genuinely connectional church (which is the biblical way of affirming unity and particularity in an ecclesial fashion); how to do mission together rather than in a “hiddly-piddly” fashion; how to hold each other accountable not just for orthodoxy, but also for orthopraxy; and how to see the means of grace as God’s genuine pattern for growing his church. I’d sure love to see all this stuff tried out once before the end of the world!

And yet, what I hope for is not Presbyterian sectarianism; rather, I hope for a real embrace of Presbyterianism that allows us to engage in meaningful ecumenical dialogue with others, born out of a real sense that we know who we are, what we believe and what God has called us to do. Being together for the Gospel is not accomplished by having “all the colors bleed into one” doctrinally or denominationally (to cop a line from Bono). Rather, meaningful conversation happens when I am deeply rooted in my own self-understanding, when you are the same, and when we can discuss meaningfully our similarities and differences with respect. And so, this gets to the third issue: how can we be Presbyterian and still seek and affirm “the one holy, catholic and apostolic church”? As Carl Trueman would tell us, there is no better place to cultivate Reformed catholicity than within the borders and boundaries of Reformed Orthodoxy. He is right, but we must make the case again and again, carefully and winsomely, persuading the rising generation that this is the case.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Monday, April 07, 2008

In Christ Alone

A few weeks ago, I completed Sinclair Ferguson's new book, In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life. Because the book was a collection of short (three to four page) essays on biblical and theological themes, I decided to use it as part of my morning worship time. Inevitable, I found things to challenge and encourage me in my walk with Christ. Whether insights from John's Gospel or Hebrews or pastoral reflections on contentment (which made me pick up Jeremiah Burroughs' The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment!), I rarely came from the book without Gospel encouragement.

However, the most moving feature of the book was the conclusion, in which Ferguson shared reflections about his former Westminster Seminary colleague, Al Groves, who died of cancer last year. Including two letters from Al himself, I saw the heart of a man who knew great suffering and yet who was deeply in love with his Savior, Jesus. In many ways, Al represented the heart of the book: what it meant to live the Gospel-centered life, not only in good times, but also in painful ones. As a result, I found In Christ Alone a rich treasury of reflection on how to live more in love with Jesus.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Preaching what you don't feel

Helpful thoughts from John Piper:

Can a pastor preach on joy when he is feeling little of it?
Yes. He is preaching what the word says and will say it whether he feels it or not.

Yes. He will be praying that in the very preaching of it, the gift of joy might be given. It does happen.

Yes. He will be honest with his people and over time communicate to them that he has his ups and downs and may have to preach on a text that does not find great fulfillment in his life at the time of preaching.

Yes. But over time the disjunction between text and person will undermine the ministry of the word. Preaching is expository exultation, and when the exultation is missing for extended periods of time, life will contradict content and this will weaken or even kill the ministry of the word.

If I wasn't going to General Assembly...

...this might be a fun course to take: a week-long intensive on Jonathan Edwards at Yale.

Friday, April 04, 2008

For words without substance...

Luther once said, "For words with substance, Melanchthon; for substance without words, Luther; for words without substance, Erasmus; for neither words nor substance, Karlstadt." We can now know, at least, how Erasmus did so well with words...

Crean and Crimson

I'm not super thrilled with Tom Crean's hire as the new IU men's basketball coach. I didn't like him as Marquette's coach and thought he was a bit of a jerk; of course, I didn't like Sampson either and thought he was a jerk (and as it turned out I was right). I don't think Crean can recruit (he was a bit lucky on D-Wade; exactly who has he had since or after with that kind of talent) and I don't think he is much of an Xs and Os guy. His only benefit? He is not John Calipari.