Friday, October 29, 2010

Preaching with Tenderness

I will surely assemble all of you, Jacob,
I will surely gather the remnant of Israel.
I will put them together like sheep in the fold;
Like a flock in the midst of its pasture
They will be noisy with men
(Micah 2:12)

From Andrew Bonar on M'Cheyne's approach to preaching sin and judgment:
Certain it is that the tone of reproach and upbraiding is widely different from the voice of solemn warning. It is not saying hard things that pierces the conscience of our people; it is the voice of divine love heard amid the thunder.

The sharpest point of the two-edged sword is not death, but life; and against self-righteous souls this latter ought to be more used than the former. For such souls can hear us tell of the open gates of hell and the unquenchable fire far more unconcernedly than of the gates of heaven wide open for their immediate return.

When we preach that the glad tidings were intended to impart immediate assurance of eternal life to every sinner that believes them, we strike deeper upon the proud enmity of the world to God, than when we show the eternal curse and the second death.

- Bonar, Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M'Cheyne (Banner; reprint, 2004), p. 43.
Our sovereign God truly stands before the sinner as a Judge, but even more as a Savior and Shepherd, and so must His preachers declare Him. Prayerfully searching for such clarity and compassion in Micah 3.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The god of America's Choosing

Al Mohler has rightly observed, Prof. Stanley Hauerwas has a habit of "irritating the faithful," which is probably why I have enjoyed reading him since college, even though I would disagree with him on most theological issues. I am always provoked by how he arrives at his conclusions (see, for example, "Preaching as Though We Had Enemies").

Yet, Hauerwas' analysis of civil religion in the US is often hauntingly perceptive. Such as his recent comments in "How Real is America's Faith?", cited by Mohler:
Americans do not have to believe in God, because they believe that it is a good thing simply to believe: all they need is a general belief in belief. That is why we have never been able to produce interesting atheists in the US. The god most Americans say they believe in is not interesting enough to deny, because it is only the god that has given them a country that ensures that they have the right to choose to believe in the god of their choosing. Accordingly, the only kind of atheism that counts in the US is that which calls into question the proposition that everyone has a right to life, liberty, and happiness.
Mohler's analysis, I believe is correct. Hauerwas makes some sweeping generalities, but he is not wrong to suggest that most Americans believe in "the god that has given them a country that ensures that they have the right to choose to believe in the god of their choosing."

And for that reason, I pray for grace and clarity in preaching the glorious realities of the real - and interesting - God who inspired such prophetic words as these.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Pray before You Eat (His Word)

Do not My words do good
To the one walking uprightly?
(Micah 2:7)

The Lord has assured His people that His Word is given to them for their good - even those so-called "hard sayings." This, of course, brings to mind our concurrent obligation to “in humility receive the word implanted” (Jas 1:21-25).

One essential to putting aside all filthiness, all that remains of wickedness, and cultivating humility, so that we are ready to receive His Word, is to pray. Whether we are preparing to hear the Scripture preached from the pulpit, taught from the lectern, or to read it for ourselves in private, earnest prayer is essential.

One helpful aid is the biblical acronym developed by John Piper in When I Don't Desire God, IOUS:
Incline my heart to Your testimonies, And not to dishonest gain (Ps 119:36)

Open my eyes, that I may behold Wonderful things from Your law (Ps 119:18)

Unite my heart to fear Your name (Ps 86:11)

Satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness (Ps 90:14)
I have pasted this my Bible as a continual reminder. How will you prayerfully prepare to receive His Word?


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sin is a Matter of Opportunity

Woe to those who scheme iniquity,
Who work out evil on their beds!
When morning comes, they do it,
For it is in the power of their hands
(Micah 2:1)

I'm no prophet, but I would venture to guess that this piercing observation by Rev. Edwards is going to show-up in my forthcoming message on Micah 2:
Opportunity often shows what men are, whether friends or enemies. Opportunity to do puts men in mind of doing; wakens up such principles as lay dormant before. Opportunity stirs up desire to do, where there was before a disposition, that without opportunity would have lain still. If a man has had an old grudge against another, and has a fair opportunity to be revenged, this will revive his malice, and waken up a desire of revenge…

You object against your having a moral hatred against God; that you never felt any desire to dethrone him. But one reason has been, that it has always been conceived so impossible by you. But if the throne of God were within your reach, and you knew it, it would not be safe one hour. Who knows what thoughts would presently arise in your heart by such an opportunity, and what disposition would be raised up in your heart. Who would trust your heart, that there would not presently be such thoughts as these, though they are enough to make one tremble to mention them?

- Jonathan Edwards, "Men Naturally are God's Enemies," Works, Vol. 2, pp. 134-35.

(Apologies for the delay on Mueller, other things have overtaken me).

Monday, October 18, 2010

Rummaging in Presbyterian Trash Cans

Great conversation between Al Mohler, Kevin DeYoung, and Ligon Duncan on the nature and scope of the "New Calvinists." Mohler's response as to its rise, is both simple and true, "Where else are you going to go?"

DeYoung, Duncan, Mohler: What's New About the New Calvinism from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

(NB, we have been investing a bit of thinking and reading recently on what it means to be Reformed or "Calvinistic," but non-confessional and may attempt to address it here in the near future).

More from Mueller tomorrow, DV.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Theology as Spiritual Ability, 3: Theologia Irregenitorum?

... just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart (Eph 4:17-18).

In previous posts (1 and 2), we have seen in the dogmatics of the Lutheran theologian, J.T. Mueller, that theologians are born by the Spirit and not made or trained. Or, as he puts it, theology is a "spiritual habitude"
The theological habitude is a spiritual habitude (habitus spiritualis, supernaturalis), that is to say, an ability which is implanted in the soul not by natural gifts, but by the Holy Ghost. It presupposes personal faith in Christ's vicarious atonement and consequently the regeneration, or conversion, of the theologian.
This, of course, begs an important question: What do we say about the host of widely-respected theologians - men (and women) who inhabit significant chairs in universities and seminaries, write voluminously, and have their prestige validated on PBS specials and Discovery Channel exposes - and yet evidence no "personal faith in Christ's vicarious atonement"? Mueller's lucidity, again, is instructive:
Unbelieving ministers or teachers do not deserve the name of theologian; and in the sense of Holy Scripture they are not theologians, though they may have apprehended the doctrines of the Word of God intellectually and be able to present them clearly and correctly. In other words, there is no theologia irregenitorum, or theology of the unregenerate, since the souls of the unconverted and unbelieving are not inhabited and actuated by the Holy Ghost, but by the 'prince of this world,' that is, Satan. Eph 2,2.

Holy Scripture always describes a true minister of Christ as a penitent, believing child of God, who ascribes to divine grace both his sufficiency and his call into the ministry. 2 Cor 3,5; 2 Tim 2,1ff. A true minister of Christ, or theologian, is therefore a sanctified believer (pp. 33-34).
The unregenerate have no theology, but speculate in futility (Rom 1:21) and understand darkly (Eph 4:18), so that "Unbelieving ministers or teachers do not deserve the name of theologian."

While this in no way minimizes the need for true theologians to contend earnestly (Jude 3) or take thoughts captive (2 Cor 10:5), it does grant a settled confidence and dependent humility to their efforts. Theologians are born again, not trained, so we can trust in God to regenerate the irregenitorum , remembering that were it not for His grace, we too would still see His Word in futility and darkness.

So, the next time the theologia irregenitorum is paraded before you, respond like David, a true theologian:
But I, like a deaf man, do not hear;
And I am like a mute man who does not open his mouth.
Yes, I am like a man who does not hear,
And in whose mouth are no arguments.
For I hope in You, O LORD;
You will answer, O Lord my God
(Ps 38:13-15)

On Monday, we'll see what Mueller has to teach us about how God cultivates and trains His true theologians.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Theology as a Spiritual Ability, 2

"Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all" (Mark 10:15)

Continuing from yesterday, Mueller in Christian Dogmatics continues that the Spirit - not universities (!) - makes theologians:
Our Lutheran dogmaticians have rightly emphasized the great truth that 'the theologian is not born, but made.' (Theologus non nascitur, sed fit.) By this axiom they wished to say that not man by nature is a theologian nor can become a theologian by his own reason or strength. Theology is a God-given habitude. (Theologia est habitus practicus θεόσδοτος.) Hence the Holy Spirit Himself must make a person a theologian. (p. 86)
And why must the Holy Spirit Himself make a theologian?
As a matter of fact, Christian theology is not a speculative system of philosophy, the substance of which lies within human intellectual comprehension; but it is 'the wisdom of God in a mystery,' 1 Cor. 2,7. (The meaning of Paul's statement is evidently: 'In speaking the wisdom of God, we proclaim a mystery.') For this reason a childlike faith in God's Word is essential no less to the Christian theologian than to the ordinary Christian believer. A theologian is a Christian theologian only inasmuch as he implicitly believes in Christ and unconditionally accepts His Word. (p. 30)
What a subversive truth in a Church so often enchanted by the tier of of "lettered" teachers! No author or professor - irrespective of the number of PhD's, books, and storied-institutions which follow his name - is a theologian who does not come to the Word of God with the trembling eagerness of a child. Such humility cannot be professionally forged or academically achieved, it must come from the work of God in the carnal heart. And so we say, with all authority, "the Holy Spirit Himself must make a person a theologian."

Tomorrow, Mueller will help us address the especially relevant question, is there a theologia irregenitorum? (Trust me, you have asked this question).

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Theology as a Spiritual Ability

Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Cor 3:5-6).

During a recent foray into a used bookstore - as we are frequently wont to do - we happened upon a copy of J.T. Mueller's Christian Dogmatics, in excellent condition (Our guess is that we are the first to actually read it since it was printed in 1955). Essentially a condensation of Pieper's three-volume Christliche Dogmatik, we have enjoyed perusing the confessional Lutheran viewpoint without having to learn German.

While Mueller has admitted weaknesses - like supposing the Lutheran Church to be the orthodox visible Church of Christ (p. 24) and the bewildering doctrine of consubstantiation (p. 520-22; if you understand it, you obviously do not get it) - most of his foibles can be excused owing to the fact that the guy was after all Lutheran.

Yet, what has made Mueller's work worth all $6 are his introductory remarks on the role and purpose of sacred theology (pp. 1-86); specifically, arguing that it is a spiritual ability or "habitude" (habitus, Latin for deportment or custom, as indicative of one's "adequacy" [2 Cor 3:5-6]). Mueller makes the contention, which has all but evaporated in our day, that theological learning and/or teaching is neither an academic nor speculative discipline, but the Spirit-wrought ability to minister the Word of God in truth.
In this treatise we use the term theology both subjectively, or concretely, to denote the spiritual ability (ἱκανότης, habitus) to teach and defend the Word of God, in short, to administer the functions of the Christian ministry in the true Scriptural manner (2 Cor 3, 5. 6)... For the Christian theologian this distinction is of paramount importance because it constantly reminds him that studying theology means not simply the intellectual apprehension of a number of facts, but the true regeneration, conversion, and sanctification of his own heart, from which his whole ministerial service must flow (p. 32)
Or, as Paul himself first put it... "our adequacy [ἱκανότης, habitus] is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant." Theologians are not made, nor are they born, they are only born again. And though we be neither Lutheran nor the son of a Lutheran, we anticipate hearing more about this from Mueller in posts to come.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Praise God for John Piper

... hold men like him in high regard (Phil 2:29)

Today, thanking the Lord for the ministry of Pastor Piper... tomorrow, celebrating the 307th birthday of his hero and ours.

For more on this new book in honor on John Piper, see DesiringGod.