Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Mandate to Prepare

It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do (1 Tim 3:1).

Any first-year Greek student can tell you that "desire" in 1 Timothy 3:1 translates epithumei, a word that you usually find translated as "lust" in your English Bible. It denotes a longing that, depending upon its object, can either be sinful (i.e., lust, covetousness) or godly (i.e., desire, passion). So Paul is here expressing of what any man called to the role of overseer (episkopes) in Christ's flock is acutely aware, that his calling is a passion and desire he longs to fulfill!

Yet, Dave Harvey from Sovereign Grace has helpfully put this God-given desire in perspective with God's gracious providence (cf. Rom 8:28; Eph 1:11). Confronting the "called" with the reality that calling to ministry is a mandate to prepare and not a summons to launch, he asks these very challenging questions:
  • Do you recognize the hand of God the Caller in placing the burden of calling in your life?

  • Do you trust that where you are in life today – no matter how far it is from where you think you should be – does not limit God’s ability to accomplish his will in your life?

  • Are you responding to your present situation with faith?

  • Would you be known as a grateful man?

  • Do you trust God to both clarify your call and confirm his direction?

  • Are you content with the process you are in?

  • Are you watching your doctrine and life closely (1 Ti 4:16), making the kinds of investments in both the process of sanctification and the deepening of your doctrine that would testify that you are using this season of life to its maximum benefit?

    - Dave Harvey, Am I Called? Discerning the Summons to Ministry, p. 43.
  • May the Lord help us who long to serve the Church of Christ as an undershepherd to protect our souls from the sin of presumption and to give ourselves to the process of preparation, that He might be glorified in our lives and future ministries.

    Tuesday, June 24, 2008

    Sheer Prayerlessness

    I beseech You, O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, let Your ear now be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer of Your servant which I am praying before You now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Your servants, confessing the sins of the sons of Israel which we have sinned against You; I and my father's house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against You and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses (Neh 1:5-7).

    We have recently read through Alexander Strauch’s Leading with Love. In chapter 13, he confronts “Laboring in Prayer” as a fundamental aspect of Christian leadership. Strauch attributes our prayerlessness today to a lack of love and, admittedly, he has a point here. Yet, a far more fundamental cause of prayerlessness in the Western church may be another anemia… the shallow, superficial, and self-centered engagement with the God to whom we are praying. As a recent survey has made us all the more painfully aware, most evangelicals care little for the evangel for which they are supposedly named.

    Strauch does not overlook this, noting Carson's similar observation:
    What is both surprising and depressing is the sheer prayerlessness that characterizes so much of the Western church. It is surprising, because it is out of step with the Bible that portrays what Christian living should be; it is depressing, because it frequently coexists with abounding Christian activity that somehow seems hollow, friviolous, and superficial.

    - Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, 9, emphasis added.
    Western evangelicalism was infected with a trite, therapeutic approach to its theology long ago. This has birthed an empty emotionalism in the stead of faith. David Wells warned us of this (and he faithfully continues to do so):
    The reality that we have to face today is that we have produced a plague of nominal evangelicalism which is as trite and superficial as anything we have seen in Catholic Europe…

    An evangelical faith that is not passionate about truth and righteousness is a faith which is a lost cause. All that it will be living for is simply its own organizational preservation…

    If we do not recover the sufficiency of the Word of God in our time, if we do not relearn what it means to be sustained by it, nourished by it, disciplined by it, and unless our preachers find the courage to preach its truth, to allow their sermons to be defined by its truth, we will lose our right to call ourselves Protestants, we will lose our capacity to be the people of God, and we will set ourselves on a path that leads right into the old discredited liberal Protestantism.

    - David Wells, "The Bleeding of the Evangelical Church"
    Wells was right. Evangelicals today are liberal Protestants and if you peruse their contemporary publications, you will observe that all we have to contend for is, in fact, “organizational preservation.” Bold expositions of the Gospel, predicated upon the sufficiency of the Word, have largely been abandoned as irrelevant. No longer exulting in the glories of our sovereign Creator and Redeemer, the absence of bold and robust prayer is just one of the chickens coming home to roost.

    We seem content to wallow in our own psyches. Observe how often evangelical prayer meetings include “I feel” rather than “Lord, You are.” There is only so much you can say about yourself, so prayer itself is moved to the periphery. It is likewise difficult to communicate with the Lord when your knowledge of Him is confined to trite phrases (e.g., “Let go and let God!”) and your diet in His Word is restricted to self-help sermonettes.

    Strauch does offer us valuable help… reading through the prayers of Scripture. Meditating on such prayers as Neh 1:5-7, John 17, Eph 1:16-19, Phil 1:9-11, Col 1:9-10, 1 Thess 3:12-13, and 2 Thess 1:11-12 will drastically affect one’s own prayer life. Even more, by observing such texts one cannot help but notice how our prayers and the depth of our theological reflection are inextricably intertwined. It is impossible to give heart and voice to that of which you are ignorant.

    May the Lord bring us back to His Word and, as a result, back to prayer. Maybe we should begin with the prayer of Nehemiah, "O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God... We have acted very corruptly against You."

    Friday, June 20, 2008

    Calvinist Crossing

    Our apologies for the infrequent posting as of late, we've been sharpening our Resolve, but more about that in later. For now, read these other guys:

    Limited Atonement (HT: Strange Baptist Fire)
    More on limited atonement from a young Puritan.

    Grow Up. Be a Man
    An excellent exhortation from Phil for our emerging friends... who do tend to be weenies.

    Preaching the Solas
    Addressing Roman Catholic World Youth Day with the truth!

    What's Happened with Starbucks?
    While not theological, nevertheless vital to good theology... coffee. Our friend and fellow Calvinist, Fred Butler, raises valid concerns of Starbuck's new strategy and why "Coffee is probably one of the few things hippy doofuses do competently."

    Monday, June 9, 2008

    Calvinist Crossing

    The Foolishness of Preaching
    "God is pleased to save sinners through the clear proclamation of gospel truth... We have no mandate whatsoever to use any other strategy —especially a strategy that attempts to harness aspects of worldly wisdom for influence under the misguided belief that these are more powerful than the gospel itself to transform our culture."

    Slaves, not Rulers
    More timely, and much needed, exhortations from Phil Johnson's keyboard, "Service, not dominion, is the most effective way to win people in any culture."

    What Does "Social Action" Look Like?
    The final installment of good thoughts on good works from the Sola Panel. (Parts One and Two, in case you missed the first links).

    The Wonder of Idiotic Perseverance
    Challenging chronicle from the old French Calvinists, the Huguenots, who suffered much for their faith.

    Friday, June 6, 2008

    Prophets Must Obey God

    Now go, write it on a tablet before them
    And inscribe it on a scroll,
    That it may serve in the time to come
    As a witness forever.
    For this is a rebellious people, false sons,
    Sons who refuse to listen
    To the instruction of the LORD;
    Who say to the seers, "You must not see visions";
    And to the prophets, "You must not prophesy to us what is right,
    Speak to us pleasant words,
    Prophesy illusions.
    "Get out of the way, turn aside from the path,
    Let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel."
    Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel...
    (Isa 30:8-12).

    With the current flood of evangelical manifestos, we have been considering what it means to stand and speak "prophetically," that is to bring the Word of God to the people of God with integrity. After some frustrated reflection, it eventually dawned on us that it may help to actually read a prophet. So, while reading through Isaiah, we noted especially the characteristics of Isaiah's prophetic ministry in Isaiah 30.

    Ministering in Jerusalem during the Assyrian aggression, Isaiah particularly chastised Judah for their unholy alliance with Egypt (cf. chs. 28-35) and, therefore, adding "sin to sin" (30:1) by seeking the Egyptians rather than repenting and resting in their Lord (cf. 30:15). In such a context of sin and compromise, how does God's prophet respond?

    By revealing sin (30:8-9). Isaiah is to write a visible witness to God's warning for the instruction of future generations (even us!). Sometimes, the prophet must just point to the lemmings as they leap over the cliff (cf. Isa 6:9-11) for it only confuses people as to the character of God to let public sin go unmentioned.

    By refusing to compromise (30:10). Not that people explicitly love to live in falsehood, but they assume their actions to be the standard of righteousness, making God's truth intolerable. God's prophet, however, must bring God's Word to God's people, he does not survey God's people and then tell God His Word!

    By receiving rejection (30:11). God's prophets received a lot of rejection (cf. Acts 7:52)! Isaiah even gave his life for his prophetic ministry (cf. Heb 11:37). There is a painful solitude in prophetic ministry, for the prophet who sees the Lord of glory, must also endure the blasphemy of His name.

    By rendering judgment (30:12-17). Notice that Isaiah spoke the very thing his hearers refused, the word of the Holy One of Israel. The prophet's chief and singular concern is to stand with integrity and faithfulness before His Lord. Or as another "prophet" has written:
    ...the Prophet must obey God, though he should become the object of men’s hatred, and though his life should be in imminent danger. Here we ought to observe his steadfastness in dreading nothing, that he might obey God and fulfill his calling. He despised hatred, dislike, commotions, threatenings, false alarms, and immediate dangers, that he might boldly and fearlessly discharge the duties of his office. Copying his example, we ought to do this, if we wish to hear and follow God who calls us.

    – John Calvin, Commentary on Isaiah, Vol. 2, p. 355
    While God's prophets are privileged to speak of His glory in redemption, they desert their post when they refuse to speak what God has spoken, regardless of the response. May the Lord help each one to stand prophetically in a day of compromise.

    Thursday, June 5, 2008

    Calvinist Crossing

    Mark Dever on Personal Bible Reading
    Dever on devotions, good stuff.

    How to Waste Your Theological Education
    Some very convicting reminders about the privilege of formal theological study.

    Iain Murry on "Our Present Needs"
    A helpful analysis from our favorite biographer... pay special attention to his six exhortations to young men.

    Spurgeon: Read Fewer Blogs
    Of course, Spurgeon does not include The Prostrate Calvinist.

    Wednesday, June 4, 2008

    Theologians are First Grammarians

    Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all (I Tim 4:15).

    At The Prostrate Calvinist, we are spending much of our summer brushing up on Greek reading. We have been especially helped by Lee Iron's reading method and calendar for the Greek New Testament.

    An encouragement to "taking pains" with those pedantic rules of Greek grammar, we have also recently begun reading The Minister and His Greek New Testament by that venerable Greek grammarian and New Testament commentator, A.T. Robertson. His exhortations to develop intimacy with the Greek New Testament are compelling and convicting:
    But the chief reason why preachers do not get and do not keep up a fair and needful knowledge of the Greek New Testament is nothing less than carelessness, and even laziness in many cases (p. 8).

    The real New Testament is the Greek New Testament. The English is simply a translation of the New Testament, not the actual New Testament. It is good that the New Testament has been translated into so many languages… One needs to read these translations, the more the better. Each will supplement the others. But, when he has read them all, there will remain a large and rich untranslatable element that the preacher out to know (pp. 9-10).

    The Greek compels one to pause over each word long enough for it to fertilise the mind with its rich and fructifying energy. The very words of the English become so familiar that they slip through the mind too easily. One needs to know his English Bible just that way, much of it by heart, so that it will come readily to hand for comfort and for service. But the minute study called for by the Greek opens up unexpected treasures that surprise and delight the soul (p. 11).
    It is our hope that we who glory in the riches of Biblical theology know well the language in which that theology was originally penned. Again, Mr. Robertson recalled the words of A.M. Fairbairn, "he is no theologian who is not first a grammarian."

    (For more on the importance of study in the Greek New Testament, see:
    Henry Thiessen, "Should New Testament Greek Be 'Required' in Our Ministerial Training Courses?"

    F.F. Bruce, "The Greek Language and the Christian Ministry"

    John Piper "Brothers, Bitzer was a Banker!"
    And lest we be accused of imbalance by some of our less grammatically-inclined readers, be encouraged by Greenlee's "No, You Don't Have to Know Greek.")

    Tuesday, June 3, 2008

    Calvinist Crossing

    The Hardest Aspect of Pastoral Ministry, Part 2
    Dan Phillips explains further that there is no interim report card for ministry.

    Christ Alone
    Helpful reminder of the implications of Solus Christus.

    10 Ways to Know Whether a Blog is Reformed
    Guilty as charged... for the most part.

    Study. Live. Preach.
    Lig Duncan reminds us that "Practicing the truth is a prerequisite for preaching the truth, and all our power in the latter is caught up in the former."

    J. Gresham Machen
    Tony visits the bodily resting place of an original fightin' fundy.