Monday, June 27, 2011

We Are Not the First Readers

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers (Eph 4:10).

Presuming objectivity appears to be a leading occupational hazard for biblical scholars. For example, consider this recent reflection from a well-known NT commentator and scholar:
As a professional biblical scholar, I always try hard to resist falling into such 'ruts,' though I am much aware of my fallibility in this respect. My goal, at least, is always to let scriptural exegesis more than presuppositions, 'functional nonnegotiables,' or theological traditions determine my conclusions.
I actually laughed out-loud when I read that line, "As a professional biblical scholar..."! There's even a little " :)" in the margin of the book to mark the moment of hilarity.

What tickled my funny-bone is that the guild of "professional biblical scholar" is wedded to more presuppositions and "nonnegotiables" than any other demographic of Bible-readers. Do not misunderstand, holding tenaciously to presuppositions is essential to the scholar's job security, advancement, and plain ol' r-e-s-p-e-c-t from their peers. Just because their presuppositions do not appear in any creed or confessional statement does not mean they are objective (as they strangely often assume).

So, for this reason, I was so refreshed to read the following in the introduction of Thomas Schreiner, Galatians (my copy arrived on Saturday to great fanfare!):
Amazingly, Gordon Fee writes from quite a different perspective, saying that his goal is to help people read Galatians 'as if the Reformation had never happened' [citing Fee, Galatians [2007), p. 1). On the one hand, Fee's goal is laudable. He wants to read the text on its own terms. On the other hand, it is remarkably naive and ahistorical, for he pretends that he can read Galatians as a neutral observer of the text apart from the history of the church. I am not suggesting that we must read Galatians in defense of the Reformation, nor am I denying that the Reformation may be askew in some of its emphases. But it must be acknowledged that none of us can read Galatians as if the Reformation never occurred. Such a reading is five hundred years too late. Nor can we read Galatians as if the twentieth century never happened or apart from the works of Ignatius, Irenaeus, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, and the like. We can consider whether Reformation emphases were wrong (I will argue that they were not), but what we cannot do is read Galatians as if we were the first readers (p. 21).
Preach it, brother! It takes courage for a "professional biblical scholar" like Schreiner to write that paragraph. Courage he likewise showed in the preface, when he wrote:
I know it is out of fashion in some circles, but it seems to me that Martin Luther and John Calvin were substantially right in their interpretation of the letter and that their pastoral application of the letter still stands today (p. 13).
I can already tell, this commentary is going to be worth every penny.

But more to the point, not only can we never read Galatians as if we were the first readers, but we should not even lament this fact! We are privileged to stand on the shoulders of two millennia of faithful Christian teachers who yet lead and equip us by their writings.

They are gifts to the Church, and gifts not to be implicitly despised under the guise of presumed objectivity.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Israel: Careful Divine Crafting

He has brought us to this place and has given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey (Deut 26:9).

Once again from Beitzel's Moody Atlas (see preceding posts: 1, 2, & 3):
God prepared the Promised Land for His chosen people to the same degree that He prepared His chosen people for the Promised Land. Although various biblical accounts and theological statements rightly describe how God set about preparing the Israelites to become the special benefactors of His grace by reason of inheriting the land, the following discussion will underscore that it was a certain kind of land that was selected and prepared by God, positioned at a particular spot, and designed to elicit a specific and appropriate response. In fact, God's craftsmanship has been vividly manifested both in the character of His chosen people and in the characteristics of His chosen land. He has been at work in both history and geography. A most helpful insight is lost for one who fails to realize that the Promised Land itself has been the object of careful divine crafting (p. 27).
Even though it goes without saying, it is often helpful just to say it: our God leaves nothing to chance. The Land of Promise is at the very center of the world (here) and devoid of nearly all natural resource and defense (here) in order to fulfill His design. Specifically, that the people of promise might come to trust the God who had promised.

I was struck by that point again while reading Deuteronomy 26 - 29 this week. In this lengthy enumeration of the blessings and curses of the Mosaic covenant, Israel was reminded that their flourishing in that Land would never be owed to their own "military prowess nor environmental ingenuity," but their faith in their Covenant Lord.

If God's people trusted their God who redeemed and delivered them,
The LORD will establish you as a holy people to Himself, as He swore to you, if you keep the commandments of the LORD your God and walk in His ways. So all the peoples of the earth will see that you are called by the name of the LORD , and they will be afraid of you (28:9-10)
However, if they trusted in their own ability or ingenuity,
The LORD will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as the eagle swoops down, a nation whose language you shall not understand... It shall besiege you in all your towns until your high and fortified walls in which you trusted come down throughout your land, and it shall besiege you in all your towns throughout your land which the LORD your God has given you (vv. 49, 52; emphasis added).
Many, many instructions are given to us about the Lord's providential ordering of our lives today. Maybe some further thoughts on them later.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Israel: The Land that Fosters Faith

We continue our thoughts from yesterday's post on God's sovereign strategy in the Promised Land. Specifically, what was the salvific intention behind Israel's geography?

Again, Beitzel's observations are helpful:
Unquestionably during the biblical period, the destiny of this tiny but strategic land was largely one determined by outsiders... [survey of ANE Empires].

Consequently, someone living in this land unavoidably was faced with a combination of geographic and military hostility. Possessing meager physical and economic resources and being inescapably caught in a maelstrom of political upheaval, one residing in these surroundings, even under ideal circumstances, might have been able to eke out the barest of existence. Life in this land would have been simple, mystifying and precarious. In the final analysis, survival in such terrain depended upon neither military prowess nor environmental ingenuity... In a word, this was a land that fostered faith.

- Moody Atlas of Bible Lands, pp. 26-27.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Israel: The "Land Bridge" at the Center

Now the LORD said to Abram, 'Go forth from your country... to the land which I will show you' (Gen 12:1).

"From Dan to Beersheba" (e.g., Judges 20:1; 1 Sam 3:20) is a land of admittedly small significance in terms of its size, natural resources, and even its inhabitants from ancient times up to the present-day. A very unlikely place for the Holy Land. Yet, as we posted yesterday, Scripture testifies that it lies at the very center of humanity and the world.

Barry Beitzel, in his superb Moody Atlas of Bible Lands, comments on the counter-intuitive prominence of the Promised Land:
At first blush, therefore, this stretch of geography would seem to be an unlikely candidate to become the center stage for a divine drama that would eventually affect all of humanity.

Upon closer examination, however, one discovers that this land mass is poised in an amazingly strategic position. Actually the Promised Land represents the only intercontinental land bridge that connects Africa with Asia and Europe, and that links the Indian Ocean, via the Red Sea, with the Atlantic Ocean, through the corridor of the Mediterranean. Since high antiquity, mighty powers with international political and economic aspirations have been positioned at either end of the bridge. What happened in Palestine was almost always a reflection of what was occurring or had just occurred in one of Israel's neighboring countries. It was on this land bridge that east met west (pp. 25-26).
Why did our God select this land as the stage for His redeeming purposes? It is at the intersection of humanity; a land bridge connecting society to society and - by His sovereign design - reconnecting men to their God.

NB: You cannot do much better than Beitzel's Atlas. We have found it a trustworthy companion in study, as well as travel to Israel itself.

And, even better, Beitzel gave it a full revision and update two years ago as The New Moody Atlas of Bible Lands. You can read reviews of this new edition by Todd Bolen (biblical geography scholar) and Kevin DeYoung (pastor).

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Jerusalem on the Big Screen

Jerusalem is a new IMAX film, slated to release in 2013. You can view the short trailer online or below. It takes some sweeping vistas from Caesarea, to the Dead Sea and Masada, down the Jordan to Galilee, with the Capernaum synagogue on its northeastern shore, and over the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem itself. Some great shots - and memories, from our own visit in 2007.

And, despite the implicit comment at the introduction to the above-trailer, Jerusalem still is the center of the world.

Jerusalem | Filmed in Imax 3D from JerusalemGiantScreen on Vimeo.

Note: If you are able, save and plan to visit Israel. It is indispensable to seeing much of the biblical narrative in "full color." Or, as Todd Bolen has remarked, "Go on a Study Tour of Israel. I wouldn’t say that one cannot teach the Bible without such a study, but neither would I say that a one-legged man cannot snow ski."

Friday, June 17, 2011

Schedule It on Saturday

I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day... (Rev 1:10)

Since we brought up the topic of Father's Day yesterday, would you kindly consider joining a new movement? Right now, it's just me and the family I shepherd, so there is plenty of room for grassroots activists! For the time-being, we're calling this movement "Schedule it on Saturday."

Specifically targeting Christians, this is largely a movement of awareness; that the smorgasbord of American celebrations (i.e., Father's Day, Mother's Day, etc.) may be observed on Saturday. Practically, it does not really involve much additional planning, you just... schedule it on Saturday.

Just move it up one day. Even if you risk disappointing "Dad" on Father's Day (and, equally, "Mom" in May). In fact, that simple disappointment might actually preach the Gospel (a la Matt 10:37-39; Luke 14:26-27).

As you can see, our platform at "Schedule it for Saturday" is simple: the first day of the week has been named by God's Word as the Lord's Day. And what a testimony to the Gospel of Christ to prohibit other recreations or celebrations from crowding-out all that we give to and receive from our Father (Mal 2:10) on His day.

We have yet to secure a lobbyist yet, but I know a few, so we'll see where this goes.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Fathers are Shepherds

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4).

By God's providence and grace, I am a pastor (or, a shepherd). Equally by God's providence and grace, I am a father... soon to be two times over, DV. Are these two related? Inextricably.

That point is the excellent observation made in this week's Kairos Journal, Fathers are Shepherds. Particularly, how the context of Paul's exhortations to families shapes their very function:
Paul did not separate private family life from public church life. Theologically, the health and unity of the Church is directly related to the health of the marriages and families within the Church. After all, local churches are simply congregations of everyday people: husbands and wives (5:22-33); children and parents (6:1-4); and, in the early church, slaves and masters (6:5-9). If these relationships are dour or unruly, the Church will suffer. Thus it makes sense in a letter where Paul is so concerned about Church unity that he would speak so directly to fathers.

... Furthermore, as every Christian father guides his own family, he will be helping his own church understand what it means to be in Christ. Indeed, every Christian father is a shepherd.
Exactly. Every dad is a pastor. And how every father pastors his home is not insignificant to how he contributes to the growth of the Gospel in the church of which he is a member. So this Father's Day, we Christian fathers are exhorted to take seriously our pastoral ministry among our family. Dads, shepherd your family for His Church.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Adam was a Real Man

Just ask Seth, Enosh, and Kenan.

Kevin DeYoung debunks the recently popular notion that Adam (and therefore, Eve) was not a literal person, by insight-fully stating the obvious: he's the first person in a genealogy of real people (see, for example, 1 Chron 1).
Are we really to think that any Jew reading 1 Chronicles (or any Christian up until very recently for that matter) would have read the genealogies as anything other than true historical truth? The Chronicler’s whole aim is to recount history. And everything in the Israelite worldview underlines the importance of God’s dealing in real time and space. Nothing suggests that 1 Chronicles is mixing in some fantastic ├╝ber-man with blood and guts real men.

That kind of genealogy wouldn’t begin to make sense, not to the Jews and not to us. It’d be like starting your family tree with the Jolly Green Giant and Paul Bunyan. It’d be like writing a biography that begins with Anakin Skywalker and his son Luke and then goes on to his son Hugh Hodge and his son Charles and his son Archibald Alexander. Not very convincing.

And not very encouraging for a bunch of exiles trying to figure out who they really are.
Read DeYoung's entire post here.

Along with a helpfully provocative line - "It'd be like starting your family tree with the Jolly Green Giant and Paul Bunyan" - DeYoung has exposed the underbelly of this issue. When you start to pull on the "minor" threads of Scripture, many not-so-minor things begin to unravel.

So, the next time someone mentions their disbelief in a literal Adam, I'm going to turn to Luke 3:23-38 and ask, "If the last man in this genealogy is figurative, what are we to say about the first?"

(NB, for more on this issue, see Coppenger, Epicycles and Phlogiston: Fanciful Flights from the Historical Adam and Jesus)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Reflections on Preaching the Entire NT

Continuing the theme of our previous post, here are some other reflections on John MacArthur completing the exposition of the entire New Testament.

Fred Butler, 1969-2011:
This past Sunday, June 5th, 2011, John MacArthur accomplished something that is extremely rare in Christendom. He finished preaching through the entire New Testament, verse by verse.

To our knowledge here at Grace, this hasn't been done in over a hundred years or more. The one person that comes immediately to my mind is John Gill, who preached through both the OT and NT, but that was in the 1700s.

It was an emotional moment. John's last sermon was on the longer ending of Mark, chapter 16:9-20. It was a encouraging message that explained the confidence we can have in the integrity of the Scriptures.

The message can be downloaded here: A Fitting End To Mark's Gospel.

The Sunday evening before that, John did a Q&A with the audience. He opened by sharing a bit about his thoughts and feeling with finishing the NT. A number of the questions asked had to do with his ministry. It, too, is worth the download to listen. Q&A Part 58

John is on sabbatical until August, but I have heard him mention on a few occasion that he may return to preaching through the Gospel of John, because he felt he didn't cover it as thoroughly as he liked the first time around. I believe it was the first major book he preached through. Others have mentioned they said he may do some character sketches of lesser known folks in the Bible. What ever the case, I am excited to see where he goes next.
And Cripplegate, If I were John MacArthur...
If I were John MacArthur, I’d keep doing the only thing I know how: dream big and preach the word. And I would start in the Old Testament. I’m not kidding. I don’t mean I’d ask God for 130 more years of life to go wormy again. I’d go bird’s-eye-view, chapter by chapter til the Rapture. And that’s what Iain Murray would call the 2nd volume of my biography (assuming he too inherited genes from Methuselah).

On the other hand, if I were John MacArthur I wouldn’t be typing this post, I’d be preparing for my next mission, perhaps brushing up on my Hebrew. What would be the expositor’s equivalent of colonizing Mars? We’ll see soon enough. His scheduled six week vacation time has dawned, and his return is already being awaited with Thessalonian anticipation.
And a simple reminder from JT, Preaching the Entire New Testament:
You can listen to all 42 years worth of his expositional preaching online for free. This is a gift to the Church, both in its original delivery and its modern availability.

Praise be to God.
Oh, and I providentially received my copy of this book yesterday and accordingly stayed up too late reading it. Good stuff. Maybe some excerpts and extracts will follow...

Monday, June 13, 2011

All the Words of the Book

At the risk of contradicting our immediately preceding post, we would be terribly amiss note to observe the significant moment last week. John MacArthur, after forty years of faithful exposition, completed the entire New Testament by concluding the Gospel of Mark, "The Fitting End to Mark's Gospel."

Our friend, Travis Allen, recaps that moment:
When John MacArthur said “Amen” at the end of his prayer last Sunday night, he had just finished his exposition of Mark’s Gospel. The evening was the final punctuation on a monumental body of work—the verse-by-verse exposition of the entire New Testament. After praying, John looked up at his congregation, and with a meek grin said, “There we are.” The church erupted in applause and a standing ovation, which he quieted in short order so he could thank everyone for allowing him to minister to them for more than four decades.
We gain a better perspective on this achievement in the most recent edition of The Master's Seminary Journal, Spring 2011 (22/1). Presented as a festschrift for Pastor John with articles from a variety of contributors, from Steve Lawson to Al Mohler, one of the most interesting tidbits was offered by Dr. Mayhue's introductory editorial. He outlines a short list of men who have actually preached through the entire New Testament and put their preaching into print:
  • 16th - John Calvin
  • 17th - Matthew Henry
  • 18th - John Gill
  • 19th - Alexander MacLaren, Joseph Parker, B.H. Carroll
  • 20th-21st - J. Vernon McGee, Warren Wiersbe
After two millennia of Christian history, when you are among a list of no more than ten other preachers, that is significant. Especially when that list includes expositors like Calvin and Henry. In other words, this is no mean feat.

In his post, Travis also marked the release of John MacArthur: Servant of the Word and Flock by Iain Murray,
In the book, Murray accurately portrays John MacArthur’s passion for theology, and his courage in proclaiming it publicly. Armed with an insatiable curiosity and a zeal for the glory of Christ, John has read extensively and deeply. What he’s learned has enabled him to lead the charge in some of the most important theological battles of our time. Murray pulls back the curtain on his thinking about doctrinal controversy and personal confrontation, and actually chronicles some of the better-known episodes.
If Murray's work is anything like the sketch he provided in the introduction to Truth Endures, this newest biography should prove to be an exceedingly helpful work. We eye the mailbox daily in anticipation of our copy.

In view of this grace-empowered achievement, we hasten to add that Pastor John is far from done. Lord willing, with many more years of preaching ahead, with the continued spreading of his influence globally through alumni of The Master's Seminary (a band of brothers over 1,000 strong!), and with more writing - the completion of MacArthur New Testament Commentary is slated for 2014 and a systematic theology (Christian Doctrine: The Persons, Purposes, and Plans of God) is scheduled for 2013 - there is much yet for him to do.

So, in prayerful anticipation of all that the Lord may yet plan for Pastor John, we give thanks that like the days of Josaiah, "he read in their hearing all the words of the book of the covenant which was found in the house of the Lord" (2 Kgs 23:2).

Friday, June 10, 2011

Not Really a Big Deal

We live in an era where almost every event and individual is over-sold and over-hyped. Most events - and most people, for that matter - are really not that important. Including you and me. (My sneaking suspicion is that Facebook has had something to do with this, but I have to consider it further). Perspective on ourselves and our age is available by the bucketful in church history.

Carl Trueman in The Price of Everything, does not disappoint in reflecting on our age and its need of perspective:
We live in a Warhol world where everybody wants their fifteen minutes of fame, preferably while still here to enjoy it. You can see this even in writing style. Too many theologians think that the first person singular pronoun is like a main verb: no English sentence is properly complete without one. It derives from overestimating the importance of the here and now; or, to put it more pointedly, the importance of ourselves and our contributions.

Church audiences are apparently the same: we want our man or our woman of the here and now to be the next Luther.
Too true. So what are we to do, Carl?
And that is why church historians play such an important role and our cynicism is such a boon. Church history keeps things in perspective. Through reading the texts and studying the actions and events of the past we can truly say that we have seen it all before. Thus, whatever it is that the latest guru is suggesting, it definitely will not work as well as expected, probably will not work at all, and anyway it will be a hundred years or more before we can say whether it made a real difference or not.
Read the rest of his article here.

And read Church History! Maybe wade-in with the archives of Christian History & Biography? It's not just good for the sake of intellectual growth, it's good for your humility and your perspective before the providence of God.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Holiday or Holy Day?

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who 1stays with you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy (Exod 20:8-11).

Observe the sabbath day to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work,but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant or your ox or your donkey or any of your cattle or your sojourner who 1stays with you, so that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day (Deut 5:12-15)

Great reflections in this week's Kairos Journal, Holiday or Holy Day?:
Do people work that they might play or play that they might work? Do they toil to accumulate the wherewithal for vacation, or do they vacation to recharge their batteries for the work set before them? Which is the priority? A cursory look at the Fourth Commandment suggests that work is central; one labors for six days and rests on the seventh. This is not a grim description of the human condition but a biblical norm, an ideal if you will.

In his classic work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber argued that Calvinists, Lutherans, and the cultures they shaped were keen on living consecrated lives, lives exhibiting the marks of regeneration. These Protestants had little use for the sacred/secular distinction—even shop men and homemakers had holy vocations. They understood the principle of deferred pleasure, so savings and the accumulation of capital were normal. They believed that shirking their work was an affront to the Lord who gave them these tasks. They might even pass up some of their vacation days. (Of course, many Americans work themselves to death for materialistic reasons, and their vacations are increasingly hedonistic.)

...for the God-called servant, there is nothing particularly merry in excessive rest. After all, there is God-given work to do.
We are increasingly persuaded that much spiritual strength is sapped from the Church, not only because devotion to work often rises to the idolatrous, but because the type of rest she often pursues is simply carnal.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Calvinist Crossing

We have been less than diligent with our blogging as of late, but hope to remedy it in the near future. Until then, if the two of you still read this, check-out these articles that we have found stimulating and helpful as of late:

A Case Against the Repatriation of Archaeological Artifacts - A good opinion piece from the folks at BAR on an issue that is not irrelevant to future biblical studies and that is unfortunately increasingly clouded by sentimentality than practicality. Hallote identifies what has seemed painfully-obvious to many of us for quite some time:
  1. Many nations of origin for artifacts quite simply no longer exist
  2. Many nations presently requesting repatriation are quite simply too unstable to be entrusted with artifacts (case-in-point, "Arab Spring").
God's Been Hunting Me Down - Sobering testimony and sound counsel by Prof. David Murray. Namely, 7 S's:
  • Sleep more,
  • Slow down,
  • Stay at home,
  • Serve the local church,
  • Socialize more,
  • Switch off, and
  • Seek the Lord.
Read Murray's story, pray for him, and learn from his experience. These exhortations would be well-heeded even for us who did not stare eternity in the face last month.

Arousing Ourselves to Death - Excellent piece by Russell Moore on the grievously pervasive influence of pornography among us. I too resonate with his experience in counseling and was exhorted to be more proactive on this issue in my shepherding.

The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction - New work by Jacobs, that is now in my "wanted" file. For related practical advice, see Starke's Advice for Slow Readers (which is good advice for every reader).

A Pastoral Case for the Filioque Clause - Having recently reviewed this theological point for teaching on God's Triunity, I appreciated Starke's article and his concluding point:
The filioque clause is not so heavenly minded that it is no earthly good. It is useful for Christians who must preach, sing, and think hard about God who is Three-in-One and has saved us and is keeping us until the Son of God, Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Trinity, comes again.