Saturday, September 26, 2009

Who's the Arrogant Preacher?

Desiring God's national conference, With Calvin in the Theater of God, is underway. Doug Wilson's contribution, The Sacred Script in the Theater of God, has proved to be especially insightful.

Applying Calvin's understanding of God's Word and preaching to our day, Wilson makes a perceptive observation:
A minister should ascend into the pulpit in order to declare what would have been true had he never been born. He is there to preach what was written in the Word before all ages and is utterly disconnected from his personal dreams, hopes and aspirations. He is there as a herald. As an ambassador.

It is quite striking that when a man today stands up in the pulpit and opens the Bible and says something like "Thus says the Lord" or "These are the very words of God" or "Hear O Israel, Behold your God!" and declares from the Word, what is he accused of being? Arrogant! Because he thinks that he doesn't matter. He’s arrogant because he thinks he doesn’t matter.

And if a guy gets up there on a stool and a cardigan sweater and chats with the people and tells stories about himself for the entire length of the sermon… 10 minutes or so. Sermonettes for Christianettes. He’s talking about himself all day long, he’s "transparent."

A minister is not up there to develop a relationship with everybody individually, he is not the Holy Spirit. He is there as a herald, as an ambassador. He is there to declare something that is outside of his control. What God has revealed to us in the Bible is the message; that’s the script. He’s not up there to preach Himself, but rather to be a servant who preaches Jesus Christ, the crucified Lord (2 Cor 4:5).

Thursday, September 24, 2009

More of the Same

...let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near (Heb 10:24-25)

Why does the Church do what it does on the Lord's Day gathering (i.e., Sunday morning corporate worship)? Because that's what it has always done. Just ask Justin...
On the day called Sunday there is a gathering together in the same place of all who live in a given city or rural district. The memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits. Then when the reader ceases, the president [pastor] in a discourse admonishes and urges the imitation of these good things. Next we all rise together and send up prayers.

When we cease from our prayer, bread is presented and wine and water. The president in the same manner sends up prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people sing out their assent, saying the 'Amen.' A distribution and participation of the elements for which thanks have been given is made to each person, and to those who are not present they are sent by the deacons.

Those who have means and are willing, each according to his own choice, gives what he wills, and what is collected is deposited with the president. He provides for the orphans and widows, those who are in need on account of sickness or some other cause, those who are in bonds, strangers who are sojourning, and in a word he becomes the protector of all who are in need.

But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead.

For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.

- First Apology, 67.

HT: Pulpit Mag
So, as we look toward the next Lord's Day, we hope, not for ingenuity or creativity, but more of the same.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

What Not to Do with Theological Truth

Your testimonies are righteous forever;
Give me understanding that I may live
(Ps 119:144)

The old Baptist theologian, J.L. Dagg, begins his Manual of Theology by setting out the purpose of theological synthesis and study:
The study of religious truth ought to be undertaken and prosecuted from a sense of duty, and with a view to the improvement of the heart. When learned, it ought not to be laid on the shelf, as an object of speculation; but it should be deposited deep in the heart, where its sanctifying power ought to be felt. To study theology, for the purpose of gratifying curiosity, or preparing for a profession, is an abuse and profanation of what ought to be regarded as most holy.
Today, Lee Irons has helpfully identified the deceitful and antithetical tendency in many Christians and ministers, who pursue theological perfection, as opposed to maturity in Christ. Irons has noted that pursuit of theological perfection:
  • Gives us the feeling that we are addressing spiritual realities, when we are really just analyzing them.

  • Causes us to think that our life is dependent upon intellectual synthesis rather than walking in His grace.

  • Promotes spiritual pride, rather than the awe of a worm before His glorious God (cf. Rom 11:33-36)

  • Causes disunity and division, rather than unity centered upon the Gospel.

    The Problems of Theological Perfectionism

    HT: JT
Understanding is for life.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Get a Bible with all the Words!

He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD (Deut 8:3).

If it is the Word of God, then every word matters! Since learning Hebrew (and Aramaic) and Greek is unrealistic for everyone, it is imperative that one studies the most accurately rendered translation. Here is some helpful and provocative counsel on Bible translations from our friend, John Piper... get one with all the words!


While we at TPC would commend the NASB for its textual basis and its consistent application of formal equivalence in translation, the ESV and NKJV are also helpful translations.

For a helpful survey and review of the plethora of English translations, see the accessible and thorough treatment by Dr. Thomas, How to Choose a Bible Version.

For a good critique and overview of the current debates on dynamic equivalence and reader-response theories in Bible translation see Leland Ryken's The Word of God in English.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Minister's Greatest Sin

True instruction was in his mouth and unrighteousness was not found on his lips; he walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many back from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts (Mal 2:6-7).

It is acknowledged that we are not particularly proficient at continuing an actual series here at TPC. We trust it is in the interest of other necessary studies, counsel, and prayer.

We have been recently pierced two-fold by Malachi and Charles Hodge, who were not contemporaries, but probably would like each other. Malachi's rebuke of the priests in post-exilic Judah is as incisive and profound as it is simple... the main and singular task of God's priests is to hold forth true instruction that men, seeking it as from the Lord, would turn aside from sin.

Hodge's article, "Suggestions to Theological Students," captures the essence of the exhortation from Malachi:
Let him remember that truth is essential to holiness and salvation; that it has always been repulsive to the majority of men; and, therefore, difficult to maintain and uphold; that the responsibility of thus maintaining and transmitting it, rests mainly with the ministry; and that the fate of many generations may depend on their fidelity...

When we properly appreciate the necessity of truth to piety, the dreadful and long-continued consequences of its neglect, we shall feel that to be indifferent to its interests is one of the greatest sins of which a minister can be guilty; give heed, therefore, to your doctrines; hold fast the form of sound words; contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints.

- The Princeton Review 5/1 (1833).
The greatest dereliction of duty amongst ministers of Christ is not failing to be entertaining nor to proficiently administer the church's host of programs, it is to approach God's Word with an apathetic or trivial bent. How a host of ministers today have fallen into this great depravity!

May God turn back His ministers to fill their mouths with true instruction that His Church be repaired and His glory known among men. May He illuminate future generations so as to not depend upon the balance of today's ministers, but return to the truth, forsake the idols of their fathers, and forgive the infidelity of our age. May He graciously preserve this servant of Christ so that it would never be said that the word of Christ was too light a thing for him.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Media and Our Capacity for Humility

A fool does not delight in understanding,
But only in revealing his own mind
(Prov 18:2)

In the previous post regarding holiness and modern media, I contended that we hinder our walk with Christ if we use modern media uncritically and naively. In the posts to follow, I hope to demonstrate how capacities inherent to faithful Christian discipleship are endangered by an unthinking embrace of media. We want to follow this by examining Ephesians 5:15-17 and its application to the media world, and finally conclude with a few practical suggestions on how Christians might use modern media with wisdom and discernment.

The first capacity endangered by media, particularly that of the published and communication variety, is a properly humble self-awareness. The Christian is called to "all humility" (Eph 4:2), in view of God's sovereign grace (cf. Eph 2:8-10), and to remember "he is nothing," so that he is not hindered in the need to "bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal 6:2-3). Yet, cultivating humility is certainly not the focus of media.

Via such venues as blogs (go ahead, chuckle at the apparent hypocrisy!), texts, Facebook, and Twitter, we have the historically unprecedented ability to instantly update and broadcast our perceptions, criticisms, and experiences to a mass audience. Though this potential may come with a price... foolishly believing that sharing our own mind is really that important.

William Deresiewicz, in his article, "The End of Solitude," made a similar observation:
The goal now, it seems, is simply to become known, to turn oneself into a sort of miniature celebrity. How many friends do I have on Facebook? How many people are reading my blog? How many Google hits does my name generate? Visibility secures our self-esteem, becoming a substitute, twice removed, for genuine connection.
Nicholas Carr, addressing Twitter in particular, is even more direct:
Twitter is the telegraph of Narcissus. Not only are you the star of the show, but everything that happens to you, no matter how trifling, is a headline, a media event, a stop-the-presses bulletin.
Reflecting universal and total depravity, narcissism is unavoidable as a cultural phenomenon. But for Christians it is inexcusable, because it unsettles the foundation of the Gospel itself:
...the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption,so that, just as it is written, 'LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD' (1 Cor 1:28-31)
The reality, however painful it may be to admit, is that our thoughts and experiences are terribly unimportant (Take a minute and let that one soak in... I know it stings a bit). If His Word is inestimable (e.g., Ps 119:127) and our words are negligible at best, which should be the focus of our contemplation and communication?

Pray for Iran

Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body (Heb 13:3).

Another post on media is forthcoming later today, DV, but for an example of media used wisely watch this CBN report on Iranian Christians with Voice of the Martyrs' Todd Nettleton.

*We're not big fans of the 700 Club, but this report was a good reminder that Christ would have us pray beyond ourselves and our immediate fellowship.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Holiness and Modern Media: Introduction

Therefore be careful how you walk... (Eph 5:15)

We're going to interrupt the previously attempted restart in order to post on my recent foray toward a Biblical understanding of Christian holiness in a media-drenched world. A sufficient number of requests have prompted us to post the audio of Sunday's class, "A Wise People: Holiness and Modern Media," on the website, but its Socratic nature may make a blog series more helpful.

Our way forward in holiness amidst modern media, will not be through Christian obscurantism, which would condemn every technological advance since 1611 and directly connect every modern medium to the coming of the Beast. After all, if we accept Merriam-Webster's definition, that media denotes "a medium of cultivation, conveyance, or expression," we must conclude that media was God's idea.

Condescending to communicate to His creatures, God has written a book, which is, in fact, a medium! There was even a book before the foundation of the world (cf. Rev 13:8). God, in His mercy, is a revealing, communicating, transcribing God, so to condemn the use of media in toto would be short-sighted. Needless to say, media has undergone a bit of development since God finished His book sometime in the late first century.

We live in an age of prolific media opportunities and intrusions, where the means of communication and expression develop at a speed unseen by previous eras of humanity. We may organize the media onslaught in three general categories:
  • Published Media, which is disseminating information for public viewing and would include books, periodicals, websites, and blogs.

  • Broadcast Media, which is the transmission of information to a mass audience via audio and/or video signals and would therefore include radio, television, movies,Mp3 players, etc.

  • Communication Media, which is the transmission of content between two or more individuals and encompasses cell phones, texting, social networking, etc.
Yet, while the efficiency and immediacy of these forms of communication receive great attention, we have not always given the same care to critically consider the media we use, especially as Christians. Have we even thought to ask whether our use of media may have trade-offs or draw-backs? The truth is we often assume that because something is new it must be better and if it is new and fast... well, then, what imbecile would stand in the way of such apparent progress? And as we are swept along, we may be failing as followers of Christ, holy and set apart by His blood, to ask the most important question: how is this medium affecting my life before my Savior and my God?

So, in the few posts that follow, we'll be seeking to uncover some of the capacities that may be endangered if we do not consider such questions as
  • What values are inherent in my use of media?

  • How does media impact my thought, my worship, and my relationships?

  • Are the patterns and habits cultivated by media helpful or harmful in my walk with Christ?
All of which is essentially to ask, how carefully do I walk?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Plain Word

...have you not read what was spoken to you by God? (Matt 22:31)

Okay, I'm back. Doubt any of our five readers are still paying attention. However, since I'm so painfully long-winded when I teach my church, that I end up rushing important points and skipping pages of notes that die in obscurity in my filing cabinet, I figured that disseminating teaching into the blogosphere might be helpful (or at least garner some measure of personal fulfillment). So, I'm back.

Why not begin by filling-out a survey on the Bible's clarity, addressing the phenomena of the divergent interpretations of the Bible and the difficulties that are faced when one reads the Bible? So, in subsequent posts, we'll attempt to answer two questions: (1) How does the Bible address its own clarity? (2) Why do Bible readers face difficulties and arrive at divergent conclusions on the meaning of any given text(s)?

We'll begin in earnest tomorrow, Lord willing, followed by a short break, as the prostrate Calvinist becomes the vacationing Calvinist (1 Cor 10:31!). So, to whet the appetite on this matter consider perusing:

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Thankful for an Imperfect Church

...just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless (Eph 5:25-27).

It has been one month since we left mercy ministry in a para-church organization to be a minister of mercy in a local church. Any regrets? None.

We are grateful beyond measure to pastor a local church. Not because she is perfect. There are areas of weakness, immaturity, and sin that are assuredly beyond the purview of the leadership. Nor because we expect her to ever arrive at perfection on this side of the Lord's return. Certainly our exegetical skill, theological depth, and pastoral wisdom are massively insufficient to lead this church anywhere near a destination resembling perfection. This church is not perfect, but she is beautiful because she is beloved by Christ.

A holy temple of God (1 Cor 3:16-17), purchased by His blood (Acts 20:28), the Lord Jesus has cleansed her that she might be presented to Him as a glorious and holy bride. And it is this reality that infuses pastoral labor with joy. Iain Murray noted the same of the Reformers and Puritans who pursued the reformation of the Bride of Christ:
They could say with Robert Rollock: 'Whilst I live I never expect to see a perfect Reformation in the Church.' Their vision for the Church was one which stretched beyond the boundaries of time and earth; by faith they saw her in her future beauty as the faultless bride of Jesus Christ. Yet this view, far from making them complacent about existing conditions, rather gave them the passion and determination to see that God's people upon earth acted as consistently as it was possible for redeemed sinners to act in relationship to the claims of the Saviour who had purchased the Church by His blood.

-- Iain Murray, The Reformation of the Church, p. 9
Lacking in passion for an imperfect local church? Consider her future glory. Consider that Christ has redeemed His bride. She is not what she should be, but she will be what He has made her. Passion for the present is derived from our assured hope for the future.

Semper Reformada

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Calvinist Crossing

New blogs are forthcoming. Maybe even later this week, DV. We are beginning to fall into a groove at RCG, so some extra blog-time is anticipated.

As a matter of principle, however, we would like to remind one sundry acquaintence that we have, in fact, posted in 2009. It's right below.

Until further notice, some Calvinist Crossing...

  • Why Read Christian Biography?
    We usually answer, "To remind us that other saints have been far more faithful to Christ in far worse circumstances than we face." Ms. Cook, however, offers some more articulate reasons: (1) a grand overview of the progress of the Christian church, (2) the development of a deeper appreciation of the basic principles and progress of the spiritual life, (3) the outworking of faith in the experiences of widely differing individuals, (4) the warnings it gives, the signposts along the way of dangers to be avoided, of pitfalls awaiting the unwary, (5) how to suffer rightly, and (6) tracing certain recurring principles and patterns of the activity of God.

  • Is Arminianism Damnable Heresy?
    A reminder to be kind to those Arminian brethren whose hearts are better than their heads.

  • Myanmar Abusing Christian Chin Minority
    It was not long ago that we sat having tea and encouraging these brethren in Yangon. Remember the prisoners... (Heb 13:3) ...I was in prison, and you came to Me (Matt 25:36)
  • Sunday, January 18, 2009

    Same Theology, Different Location

    As we're sure our vast readership has noticed, TPC has been dormant as of late. The management begs your forgiveness and assures you it is not a byproduct of theological vacillation, historical revisionism, nor personal lethargy. The truth is that we were just... busy.

    After several months of discussion, prayer, and reflection, we have received a call to the pastoral office at River City Grace Community Church in Sacramento, CA. Thus, years of prayer, training, and preparation have come to fruition in full-time vocational ministry in the local church. God's kind and gracious hand has knit our hearts to RCG and it is with great enthusiasm that we join this body to share in the joy and burden of ministering the Word and shepherding the flock for Christ.

    So, in this case, blog silence equals life activity, such as packing, moving, Christmasing, and unpacking... which are all good things. But do not despair, the TPC has more to share! Until then, we would covet your prayers for His grace to fulfill the mantle of pastoral leadership commended to Timothy by Paul:
    Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.

    Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery. Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all.

    Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.
    - 1 Timothy 4:12-16
    Soli Deo Gloria