Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Or We Teach Nothing

Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching [didaskalia, doctrine] persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you (I Tim 4:16).

Close to our heart here at The Prostrate Calvinist, as we have previously mentioned, is the conviction that our theology (i.e., "There is...") and our lives (i.e., "Therefore...") are inextricably connected. So, I found these recent comments from my pastor particularly encouraging:
The distinction between doctrinal and practical truth is artificial; doctrine is practical! In fact, nothing is more practical than sound doctrine.

The pastor who turns away from preaching sound doctrine abdicates the primary responsibility of an elder: “holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9). We teach truth, we teach error, or we teach nothing at all...

We have imposed an artificial meaning on the word doctrine. We’ve made it something abstract and threatening, unrelated to daily living. That has brought about the disastrous idea that preaching and teaching are unrelated to living...

True doctrine transforms behavior as it is woven into the fabric of everyday life. But it must be understood if it is to have its impact. The real challenge of the ministry is to dispense the truth clearly and accurately. Practical application comes easily by comparison.

- John MacArthur, "Who Said Doctrine Isn't Practical?"
We teach truth, we teach error, or we teach nothing at all. Amen.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

For One Great Reason

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit (I Pet 3:18).

And one final comment from Piper on the ultimate goal of our risen Savior:
Until the gospel events of Good Friday and Easter and the gospel promises of justification and eternal life lead you to behold and embrace God himself as your highest joy, you have not embraced the gospel of God. You have embraced some of his gifts. You have rejoiced over some of his rewards. You have marveled at some of his miracles. But you have not yet been awakened to why the gifts, the rewards, and the miracles have come. They have come for one great reason: that you might behold forever the glory of God in Christ, and by beholding become the kind of person who delights in God above all things, and by delighting display his supreme beauty and worth with ever-increasing brightness and bliss forever.

- John Piper, God is the Gospel, 37-38.
Risen from the grave to bring us to God. Happy Resurrection Day!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The King Would Not Rule

... if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain (I Cor 15:14).

To assist your celebration and worship of the resurrected Christ this weekend, another comment from Piper, but dealing with the implications of the resurrection. Tomorrow, we will move past the ellipsis to uncover the purpose of the resurrection.
But there would be no gospel if Jesus had stayed dead… The King would not rule over a ransomed people if he were not raised from the dead. And if the King of kings is not ruling, there is no gospel. Jesus made clear that he would rise from the dead [cf. Matt 12:40; Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34; John 2:19], and Paul made clear that this was an essential part of the gospel: “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel” (2 Tim 2:8). Therefore, the living God, the Creator, the King of the universe has come in his Son, Jesus the Messiah, and has died for our sins and has been raised from the dead. All this is the gospel...

- John Piper, God is the Gospel, 29-30

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Means and the End

... whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Rom 3:25-26).
Christ is therefore both the means and the end of God's purpose in the universe. Without his work, that end to reveal the fullness of the glory of God for the enjoyment of God's people would not have happened. And in that very means-work he became the end—the one who forever and ever will be the focus of our worship as we spend eternity seeing and savoring more and more of what he revealed of God when he became a curse for us. Jesus is the end for which the universe was made, and the means that makes that end possible to enjoy.

- John Piper, "A Good Friday Meditation"
Today our worship is to be focused on the only One worthy of worship! He was obedient to death so that God might be both just and the Justifier... He thought of Him above all.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Still Sovereign

...but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (I Cor 2:7-8).

Despite being one of the most oppressive regimes and worst persecutors of the Church, they are still hosting this year's Olympics. Despite decades of attention from celebrities and billions in aid from charities, that continent has never been more emaciated than right now. Despite the longest presidential campaign in the nation's history, not a single candidate seems worth a vote.

It can all get pretty depressing pretty fast, can it not? That is, when your hope is set on the rulers of this age setting this world aright... and all before the 10 o'clock news.

Yet, at least in the first century, the folly of man's best and brightest and most powerful was sovereignly intended by God for His glory and the glory of His children.
They thought they were doing away with a messianic pretender; in fact, they were illegally and immorally executing 'the Lord of glory.' They thought they were so wise, so politically astute; in fact, by their folly they brought to pass, in God's perfect providence, his own wise plan - the very plan that they dismissed as foolishness. Amazing grace: in God's wise purposes, they killed the Lord of life.

- D.A. Carson, The Cross and Christian Ministry, p. 51.
This has always been His wisdom. That even human sin is sovereignly permitted as a vehicle of human redemption. So, when all is wrong despite what seems to be our best hope, take some time to smile and rejoice... He's still sovereign.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

But Because He Was Forgiven

But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, 'I BELIEVED, THEREFORE I SPOKE,' we also believe, therefore we also speak, knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you (II Cor 4:13-14).

Our apologies to both of the readers of The Prostrate Calvinist, as our regular posting schedule has been interrupted by some recent periodontal surgery which has left me, shall we say... a little down in the mouth.

However, this forced slow-down has also afforded me the time to read D.A. Carson's newest volume, a moving biography of his father, Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor. While there's much to commend in this book (including how the humility of his father gave us A Call to Spiritual Reformation, one of Carson's most celebrated volumes), the central melody is a transparent telling of how a very typical pastor persisted amidst discouragement, and even depression, in a rather unsung ministry.
When he died, there were no crowds outside the hospital, no editorial comments in the papers, no announcements on television, no mention in Parliament, no attention paide by the nation. In his hospital room there was no one by his bedside. There was only the quiet hiss of oxygen, vainly venting because he had stopped breathing and would never need it again.

But on the other side all the trumpets sounded. Dad won entrance to the only throne room that matters, not because he was a good man or a great man - he was, after all, a most ordinary pastor - but because he was a forgiven man. And he heard the voice of him whom he longed to hear saying, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Lord.'

- Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor, p. 148.
It was the certain, and amazingly simple, faith in the risen Savior that transformed a regular guy into a mighty servant of Christ. It is always faith in the risen Savior that compels the most ordinary, the most normal, and the most fearful of men to live - despite all appearances - the most extraordinary of lives.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

No Publicity Necessary

I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth (I Cor 3:6-7).

We're the New Calvinists. No, the Reformed Evangelicals. No, no, the Classic Christians.
Instead of attempting to form new alliances and organizations, we need to discern what God is doing. His work will last for eternity. It is one of the brightest hopes in the United States at the present time that gospel preachers, from different denominational backgrounds, are being spontaneously drawn together in a common concern to advance the cause of Christ. This cause does not need new labels or structures; most of all it needs the anointing of the Spirit, more prayer, love, and humility. Announcements of success, or satisfaction with numbers, are to be feared rather than sought. God’s work needs no publicity. A true advance and recovery will be marked by the sense of weakness and need which gives all glory to God. Let us not stop short of seeking a real spiritual awakening!
- Iain Murray, "A Senior Saint on Unity," in 9Marks eJournal 5/2 (Mar/April 2008).

We serve the sovereign and working King until He returns... truth happens.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Bible-Thumping Mercy?

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful (Luke 6:35-36).

"That's a strange job for a guy like you." I was not taken aback by his observation, because it was not the first time I had heard it, and I doubt it will be the last. When you are an alum of a particular seminary and an employee of a particular organization, you grow accustomed to thoughtful people inquiring about what they see as an apparent inconsistency: "You care about Scripture and theology, why do you work in compassion ministry?"

Now, I readily admit that this apparent inconsistency is often more real than apparent. I swim in waters of pragmatism, materialism, and superficial theology on a daily basis. I often do nothing other than eat evanjellybeans. And I am quite confident that if I did not work alongside a brother with a master's degree in biblical counseling, I would surely have committed professional hari kari a long time ago.

Yet, in spite of that, I have come to believe that the apparent inconsistency is far more imagined than real. Of all people in the world (let alone the Church!), those who should most stridently engage the needy with compassion, it should be us Bible-thumping Calvinists. Far more than any other stripe of Christian theology, we know the glory of God in mercifully electing totally depraved sinners and drawing them to Himself in Christ, over and against their hostile unwillingness to receive His great mercy:
Many people think that the Reformed faith de-motivates Christians from sharing the Gospel. But when we realize the costly mercy by which God has saved us, the natural result is that we would look with mercy on the world. The Bible says that we love because God loved us, we forgive because God has forgiven us, and we give because of what God has given to us. If we understand the sovereign mercy that has saved our souls, we will be merciful to others by presenting a living and loving witness to the Gospel of Christ.
- Rick Phillips, "What the Needy Need," in Tabletalk (April 2008).

The major keys of Calvinism ring with compassion. I know the full riches of Christ's simple reminder, "just as your Father is merciful." So, it turns out that this is not such a strange job for a guy like me.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Bring the Books

When you come bring the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments (II Tim 4:13).

We obviously appreciate the edifying value of good Christian literature here at The Prostrate Calvinist. Although we are slightly biased toward the older divines, there are many contemporary authors that are worth your hearing. Thanks to the leg-work of the Discerning Reader, here's a select list of note-worthy volumes to look for this year:

• David Wells, The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth-Lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World
• Bob Kauflin, Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God

• Mark Dever, 12 Challenges Churches Face
• Colin Hansen, Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the New Calvinists
• Walt Kaiser, The Promise-Plan of God: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments
• J.I. Packer & Mark Dever, In My Place Condemned He Stood: Celebrating the Glory of the Atonement
• Richard Phillips, What's So Great About the Doctrines of Grace?
• D.A. Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited

• Thomas Schreiner, New Testament Theology

• Joel Beeke, Living for God's Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism

• Burk Parsons, ed. John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology

• Steven Lawson, The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards

Monday, March 10, 2008

Dare to be a Sinner

Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another (Eph 4:25).
The most experienced psychologist or observer of human nature knows infinitely less of the human heart than the simplest Christian who lives beneath the Cross of Jesus. The greatest psychological insight, ability, and experience cannot grasp this one thing: what sin is. Worldly wisdom knows what distress and weakness and failure are, but it does not know the godlessness of men. And so it also does not know that man is destroyed only by his sin and can be healed only by forgiveness. Only the Christian knows this.

In the presence of a psychiatrist I can only be a sick man; in the presence of a Christian brother I can dare to be a sinner. The psychiatrist must first search my heart and yet he never plumbs its ultimate depth. The Christian brother knows when I come to him: here is a sinner like myself, a godless man who wants to confess and yearns for God's forgiveness. The psychiatrist views me as if there were no God. The brother views me as I am before the judging and merciful God in the Cross of Jesus Christ. It is not lack of psychological knowledge but lack of love for the crucified Jesus Christ that makes us so poor and inefficient in brotherly confession.
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 118-19; emphasis added.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Blessedly Distinct

Another gem from Mark Dever on life and ministry:
What we want to see are communities of people that are reflecting the character of God, and by so doing, being distinct from the world around them. So many evangelical churches today seem to be trying to break the code of how do we look as much like the culture as possible and yet keep the Gospel, assuming that will maximize evangelistic impulse. I’m not sure that is true. I think there is a lot of peril in that. It seems to be that even from the earliest chapters of Acts it is not that, “Hey, they speak Hebrew too,” but, “Hey, look at how they love one another in a way that’s different from the way we’re loving or being loved.” So, I think that God’s character, as it is reproduced in a group of people, has to be one of the most powerful witnesses to the truth of the Gospel, both for evangelism and the edification of those already converted, that we can imagine.

I would like to see evangelical churches, not become unsophisticated on how they interact with culture, but keep that in perspective and realize that the life-blood of your church continuing is not your contextualization, is not your similarity to the culture, it is how you are blessedly distinct from the culture. Because when you are saved, you are born again, you are made a new creation, and a church is a church full of people like that. So, our distinctives are what we want to hold and trust that God will make them attractive and commend the Gospel to other people through them.
Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation (I Pet 2:11-12).

Tarring the Ark

This weekend, we're going to look at some "particularly helpful" statements by Mark Dever in a recent interview on life and ministry.
Sometimes I feel like I’m being called to tar the Ark before the Flood. Our world is just increasingly secular and churches that are just trying to be as much like the world as possible, I fear, are very leaky arks. I fear that they are just going to sink and be spiritually worthless and be spiritual tombs. I think that the rise of secularism will cut down on nominal Christianity and will encourage the clarity of what truly is the Gospel, and the effects that it has, because the worth of nominal Christianity will just continue to decline in the culture broadly. As the general cultural perception turns on evangelical Christianity, I think we are just seeing all the more clearly our need to have a positive vision for the church as distinct from the culture.
But you are a CHOSEN RACE, A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR GOD’S OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY (I Pet 2:9-10).

Reason de Entre

but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth(I Tim 3:15).

Far more than God's means of present edification and sanctification, the Scripture has been entrusted to Christ's Church that she might both exhibit and safeguard it, amidst all of the turmoil and change in the world around her.
The church does not invent the truth, and alters it only at the cost of judgment. It is to support and safeguard it. It is the sacred, saving treasure given to sinners for their forgiveness, and to believers for their sanctification and edification, that they might live for the glory of God. The church has the stewardship of Scripture, the duty to guard it as the most precious possession on earth. Churches that tamper with, misrepresent, depreciate, relegate to secondary place, or abandon biblical truth destroy their only reason for existing and experience impotence and judgment.
- John MacArthur, I Timothy, 136-37.

Governing, Guiding, and Refreshing

He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything (Col 1:18).

Since Christ is the Head of the Church, it is His Word that rules Christians. Scripture’s authority is as present and active as if the Lord Jesus Himself should open the skies and audibly direct us.
The rule of Christ is made effective by his Spirit, through whom he illumines our understanding of his Word, and gives us wisdom to apply it… The rule of Christ through his Word and Spirit is not the dead hand of human tradition reaching from the past. Rather, by his living truth and the abiding presence of his Spirit the Lord governs, guides and refreshes his people.
- Edmund Clowney, The Church, 202-03.

We only follow Christ when we are obedient to Scripture and we only honor Christ when we are faithful to Scripture. For us to follow any other authority or to look to any other source for direction, is nothing less than mutiny against our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Every Self-Respecting Calvinist...

loves the local church!
To the Church, under God, we owe it that we are ‘born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible (1 Pet 1:23),’ and from her we obtain the milk and the food by which we are afterwards nourished. Such are the reasons why the Church is called the mother of believers.
- John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians, 140-41

Have you called your mother lately?

Monday, March 3, 2008

Grapes Do Not Grow on Thistles

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised (I Cor 2:14).

An "objective unbeliever"? That, my friend, is a creature of myth, a conceptual oxymoron. And this was precisely Paul's point to the Corinithians.

In view of the humility (2:1-5) and veracity (2:6-13) of Paul's message, why did some among them still reject his teaching? Because they did not want to accept it. The rejecters do not, in fact, "accept" (dechetai) his message, which is to say that they do not welcome or receive the message as one would a guest. So it is not that the unbeliever "cannot understand" the message because "Jesus Christ, and Him crucified" (v. 2) is irrational and overly complex... it is because He is not welcome.
Given a wrong inclination, wrong volitions must follow. If the disposition of the will be vicious, the volitions of the will cannot be virtuous, any more than the fruit can be grapes if the root is that of the thistle.
- William Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 4.5.

It is because the news of Jesus is not welcome that men "cannot understand" or mock Him as "foolishness." Fallen humanity is not lacking in bare ability, it is that they have no desire. Man's rejection is so hostile that it may be described as total inability.

This principle of irrationality by rejection also carries a rather searching application to those of us whose desire has been mercifully changed by God's Spirit, but for whom sin remains an experiential reality... do you yourself welcome the truth as a long-awaited guest?