Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Holding onto Tradition: Responsive & Non-Captive

Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other (1 Cor 4:6).

Good, clear, and helpful thoughts from John Frame:
... I try to encourage Bible interpretation that is responsive to tradition, but not captive to it. The chief rule of Reformation hermeneutics is that Scripture is the best interpreter of Scripture, under the illumination of the Holy Spirit. “Biblical” theology is often defined as a method of Bible interpretation focusing on redemptive history. That’s fine, but it should not be the only method we use. Redemptive history may be the chief content of Scripture, but there are many things in the Bible (Psalms, Proverbs, e.g.) that are most narrowly historical.

... We should certainly learn from people God has appointed to teach the word, both in our generation and in the past. However we should be ready to make a break with the past if Scripture forces us to do that. That itself has an important precedent in tradition: the Protestant Reformation. And when we do make use of tradition in our theology, we should not be narrowly confined to the tradition of our own denomination. Theology today, in my view, partly because of the nature of graduate education, is far too focused on theologians in the past and present and far too little focused on Scripture itself. The best balance is in John Murray’s work.

Read the Credo Magazine's entire interview with John Frame.

There is a lot of wisdom in Frame's answers. Not least of which is his simple principle on the relationship between Scripture and tradition: Responsive, but not captive. It often seems that Christians are either captive or non-responsive to Christian tradition. Either position leaves us impoverished and ill-equipped. With Reformation Day upon us, Frame's encouragement that "we should be ready to make a break with the past if Scripture forces us to do that" is a timely reminder.

In what I read and observe in contemporary theology, I heartily agree with Frame that "graduate education" has set theology too far adrift from its source in the Word of God and made it far too concerned with the personal theology of individual writers / lecturers. I am grateful for Frame's courage to (frequently) call theologians and the Church to account on this matter (see previous post on Schreiner for a similar point).

Also, I second his nod to John Murray, who is truly a great resource for responsive, but not captive theology. After more recently procuring his four-volume, Collected Writings, I have been greatly helped. Murray is moving closer to the top of my "consult-first" list in my library. (Hint: The "Library of Light" in my church has a copy of his biography, Life of John Murray. It is a heartening read and good introduction to this faithful brother in Christ).

Finally, in this category of tolle lege, John Frame's Theology of Lordship series is likewise a real gem, I consult one of those four volumes in my library regularly. Frame writes lucidly and biblically, not afraid to challenge his readers nor his own tradition. Personally, I am ambivalent toward his triadic structure, but that does not diminish the value of his works.

You would be wise to add Frame to your "wishlist" (Tip: start with Doctrine of God or Doctrine of the Word of God).

NB, his Apologetics to the Glory of God is likewise indispensable on that topic... especially if Van Til is a bit much for you.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

It Matters What You Wear

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 5:27).

As you lay out your clothes for corporate worship tomorrow on the Lord's Day, please keep in mind that your attire does matter.

R.C. Sproul Jr.:
The glory of the gospel is that God isn’t looking at my clothes when I come to worship. Whether I am dressed to the nines or dressed in flip-flops, He isn’t looking at my clothes. He is, however, looking at what I am wearing. And praise God what I’m wearing not only covers my body, but covers my heart as well. What I wear to worship is what I wear the rest of the week. I do not come dressed for a formal dance. I do not come dressed for a picnic on the beach. I come instead dressed like royalty. I come dressed like a prince. For I wear the righteousness of the Son of God. I do not come as I am. I come as I AM is.
Read Come As You Aren't.

Join the saints tomorrow in the finest dress in the universe... the spotless garments of the bride of Christ.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.

- "Rock of Ages" by Augustus Toplady

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found,
Clothed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne!
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

- "My Hope is Built," by Edward Mote

Friday, October 14, 2011

Evangelicalism, We Have a Problem

...I refrain from this, so that no one will credit me with more than he sees in me or hears from me (2 Cor 12:6).

Okay, this is the last post on the whole "celebrity pastor" thing (see 1, 2, & 3). We'll let Carl Trueman, Don't Know Much about Art, but I Know It When I See It, offer the last word:
The issue is that there is a real problem -- in fact, many real problems -- to which some are trying to draw attention. There is a problem with the yob aesthetic, the arrogant stage swagger, the stand-up routines, the obsession with talking about sex in sermons which puts some of these conference headlining pastoral role models about as far from Paul's vision of leadership as possible; there is a problem with pastors who tell their people they will only visit them in hospital once they have been placed in a body bag; there is a problem with pastors who make videos which ape the aesthetics of the mainstream media and focus on the pastor, not the pastor's God; there is a problem with churches of thousands of people, few of whom ever get to meet an elder, let alone the pastor; there is a problem with church planting strategy that is so wedded to the cult of the one man that he has to be skyped in to the community; there is a problem when a man has to phone the librarian at Westminster Seminary with a pastoral issue because nobody at his home church of thousands has the time to speak to an ordinary church member about his crisis of faith.
Read his entire post.

Without exaggeration, there is a problem. There is no hyperbole in that paragraph. And Trueman's last example especially - of a call placed to the seminary librarian - makes me want to weep.

Regardless of what you term it, the behavior of many Christian leaders runs directly counter to Paul's concern that the Corinthians not "credit me with more than he sees in me or hears from me."

D.A. Carson explained Paul's attitude:
...it is the typical attitude displayed by this apostle, who is always concerned to insist that people should focus on the gospel and on the Savior; not the messenger.

- A Model of Christian Maturity, p. 149.
Yet, we often find the messenger himself precisely at the focus. Or, as Trueman puts it, "focus on the pastor, not the pastor's God." It can be subtle, to be sure. Though a careful observer can distinguish when something has been written or said to exalt God or to exalt a man's exaltation of God - and there is a world of difference between those two.

Keep that difference in mind the next time you read a bio, conference introduction, or book blurb. There is a problem when Christians are too eager to be credited with more than is seen in them or heard from them. Or they are least negligent in allowing others to do it for them.

I have a close friend who is fond of saying his goal in life is "to die in obscurity for God's glory." Amen, brother. And I do hope he represents the majority of the next generation of missionaries, teachers, and pastors. We are messengers. And whether many people know us or like us - or even remember us when we die - is utterly unimportant.

May the Spirit of our Savior remind us that irrespective of the venue that is afforded to our teaching or writing, we have been called to be pastors, not personalities.

Related Posts:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

It Will Happen to Us

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Heb 13:8)

During a recent visit, Christian journalist, Collin Hansen, was dismayed over the abysmal conditions of a once-faithful and historic church. In fact, this church was once led by none other than Jonathan Edwards himself.

So, Hansen applied this living parable:
Future generations may wonder how Bethlehem Baptist Church of all places could lose its missionary zeal. They may look back on a theological downgrade at Redeemer Presbyterian Church. If the Lord tarries, they might mock a ministry called The Gospel Coalition that lost the gospel. If it happened to Edwards, Luther, and Wesley, it can happen to us.

We should take every precaution to guard our confessions and plead with the Holy Spirit to give our descendants the new birth. Even these efforts, however, guarantee nothing. The history of redemption is littered with the rise and fall of evangelical empires. Only God remains the same, and only God deserves our worship.
Read his entire article, Rise and Fall of an Evangelical Empire.

Respectfully, I would add that Hansen overlooked an important element... the writing is always on the wall. Take Northampton, for example. Let's not forget that in 1750 this congregation actually fired Pastor Edwards. So, how can we feign surprise that the church continued to slide from orthodoxy? Edwards himself warned them at that time in "A Farewell Sermon," from Acts 20. (It is one of our favorite Edwards' sermons).

It is no less true today. Let's just take, for example, The Gospel Coalition. Hansen muses about a future when the TGC might tragically mock its own name by losing the Gospel itself. Again, we would add that the writing is already on the wall. On this immediate point, see these previous posts: Yet, even with this oversight, Hansen is spot-on. There are no efforts that we can invest to guarantee anything. If one thing is certain, neither you nor I can keep it all together. It happened to Paul (see 2 Tim 4:9-16), Luther, Calvin, Edwards, et al. Be assured, it will happen to The Gospel Coalition and other contemporary "empires." It will happen to us... the writing is always on the wall.

Our glorious God only guarantees the preservation of His name and His glory. So, when we celebrate any movement, give thanks for any institution, or even cherish our own local church, we must end where our Lord Himself taught us to begin:

Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.

"Only God remains the same, and only God deserves our worship." Amen, brother.

N.B., for a helpful analysis and application of Jonathan Edwards' termination, please see Mark Dever, "How Jonathan Edwards Got Fired and Why It's Important for Us Today," which was subsequently published as a chapter in A God-Entranced Vision of All Things.

Friday, October 7, 2011

It's Not a Couple of Hours

On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together... (Acts 20:7)

I'm convinced. Though I'm more of an American Football man myself, I am convinced that we need more rugby players in our churches. Devout Euan Murray Questions Sunday Matches:
It's basically all or nothing, following Jesus. I don't believe in pick 'n' mix Christianity. I believe the Bible is the word of God, so who am I to ignore something from it?

I might as well tear out that page then keep tearing out pages as and when it suits me. If I started out like that there would soon be nothing left.

I want to live my life believing and doing the things (God) wants and the Sabbath day is a full day.

It's not a case of a couple of hours in church then playing rugby or going down the pub, it's the full day.
Read the entire article, which gives also nod to Eric Liddell.

May Murray's tribe of rugby-theologians increase... even in the US! (I think they would make great ushers).

Enjoy the Lord's Day.

HT: Ref21

Related Posts:

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Afraid. The End

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Ps 111:10a).

In Mark's Amazing Ending, Jesse Johnson identifies the purpose of Mark's actual ending:
The book also ends with a powerful evangelistic thrust. So far, the only person to open his mouth and positively identify Jesus as the Son of God has been a Roman—the same soldier responsible for his arrest, trial, and execution. The apostles haven’t said it, and neither have the women. When the book ends with the phrase “And they said nothing to anyone…” it serves as a rhetorical device: will you open your mouth? Will you join the centurion and even the demons that identify Jesus as God’s son? Will you tell others? Or will you go missing like Peter, or silent like the women?

When the ending of Mark is seen as it was written, it ranks with Judges, Jonah, and Revelation in terms of having a powerful ending that raises a question. Do you do what is right in your own eyes? Do you have compassion on the lost? Do you long for the Lord’s return? And finally, are you amazed at what Jesus has done? You should be, and you should open your mouth about it.
Read Jesse's entire post.

I concur entirely with his observation: "knowing that those final 11 verses of Mark 16 are not Markan should actually bolster one’s confidence in the transmission of Scripture, not lesson it."

I argued the same in A Tradition of Translation Timidity:
Leaving passages like Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53-8:11 in the same flow of the canonical text - just because the publisher does not want to handle the deluge of angry e-mails that are sure to follow their exclusion - just seems irresponsible.

Furthermore, this practice actually undermines our confidence in the inerrant text and undoes all that was accomplished in the Reformation's call to sola scriptura. For a vigorous application of "ecclesiastical usage" amounts essentially to a Roman Catholic view of binding authoritative tradition.

By not distinguishing these inauthentic passages - something like Wallace's footnote proposal - we are truly doing a great disservice. By offering a more transparent admittance of what we have known (for centuries!), we give greater witness to the text of Scripture and greater credibility to the preaching and teaching within the Church.
Identifying what we know only serves to hinder the Church's confidence in Scripture's transmission. Ignorance can bolster neither confidence nor conviction.

Mark actually ends with "... for they were afraid" (16:8) and that is the best ending (or question) that the Spirit of the Lord could have ever superintended for His Church.

After all, it is the beginning of wisdom.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Exporting our Evangelical Freakshow

Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches (2 Cor 11:28).

Little did I know that when I wrote on Asterisks for Celebrity Pastors, that very world of personalities and media platforms would furnish an ample illustration that very week. If you missed it, James MacDonald, pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel and council member of The Gospel Coalition, invited T.D. Jakes - yes, that T.D. Jakes - to speak at The Elephant Room, for a dialogue-style conference. Perhaps even more implausible than the invitation itself, was MacDonald's defense of his invitation. It is a staggering and almost unbelievable lapse in judgment from such a prominent Christian leader. (I keep waiting for MacDonald to say, "Gotcha! Just kidding!").

Thoughtful and biblical responses have been offered by Tim Challies, Phil Johnson, Nathan Busenitz, and Thabiti Anyabwile, not to mention the glut of resources from Ligonier. Though, as usual, I find the rejoinders of Carl Trueman to be among the most perceptive:
Phil Johnson observed the same today in The Evangelical Freakshow. Though Phil notes an important disagreement with Trueman's analysis. Namely, could these sorts of celebrity pastors ever exert influence over Christians in other parts of the world? Of course, the shameful answer is that they already do.
It is precisely the celebrity of American evangelical rock stars that the rest of the world seems so attracted to. And the more outlandish the personality, the more other cultures seem interested. These things spread around the world, not only because American evangelicals are wantonly imperialistic but because morbid curiosity, worldly interests, and carnal lusts are a problem in every culture, and the mortification of those passions fell out of fashion among church people ages ago.

...And Dr. Trueman is right to point out that it is a uniquely American evangelical phenomenon to foster these cults of celebrity and to encourage each wave of superstars to push the limits of sobriety and propriety further than the last superstar did. American evangelicalism has become a large jingoistic freak show.
Read Phil's entire post here. I have personally observed this tragedy on 3 different continents. And every time it was emotionally taxing, as I vacillated from sorrow to rage to near comatose apathy - and usually in the same hour!

It should come as no surprise to us. The world is enamored with our salacious entertainment. They are desperate to catch-up to our styles in food, fun, and fashion. Even our political enemies cannot wait to eat at their own McDonald's or Starbucks! And the very real tragedy is that things are no different in the Church.

Just as quickly as evangelical movements and personalities take hold in the US, they export the same to our brethren around the world. Our brothers and sisters who need our time and our heritage of biblical resources, are instead deluged by our pointless fads.

If for no other reason than this, The Gospel Coalition - whose confessional statement actually begins with "The Tri-une God" - faces a pivotal moment:
  • Will TGC remain a coalition around the Gospel or will they defer to influential personalities? (Please remember that Arianism did not flourish in the 3rd century because Arius was a boring and unpersuasive communicator).
  • Is TGC actually a movement to "unite on the nature of truth, how best to read the Bible, on our relationship to culture, on the content of the gospel, and on the nature of gospel–centered ministry" (TGC, Vision Statement) or simply another manufactured platform for celebrity pastors?
  • What does subscription to TGC's own confessional statement mean for their own council members? Put more simply, what role does TGC believe doctrine should have in their vision for evangelicalism? Or put more pointedly, is TGC just another collection of ecclesiastical pragmatists with theological window-dressing?
This is no molehill. When we talk about doctrines like the Trinity, we are not debating peripheral issues. We are asking, will our generation of Christian leaders remain Christian?

Without any sensationalism intended, I do pray that there is an Ezekiel out there - perhaps a whole coalition of them - that sees "what they are doing" (Ezek 8:6). And that not only for the sake of the Church in America, but for all the churches around the world who are watching us - even now.