The Corinthian Question
I am about to start teaching 1st Corinthians to the second year students. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the mass of commentaries that have been written on this letter. And it is equally easy to feel confused by the chronology of events. It seems that over a seven year period, the apostle Paul made 3 visits and wrote 4 letters to Corinth:
What language shall I borrow?
I recently had the privilege of attending the West London Ministry Meeting at Duke Street Church in Richmond. Mike Reeves of UCCF was speaking to us about Richard Sibbes’ book originally titled Bowels Opened but soon to be re-published by the Banner of Truth with a title more appropriate for the 21st Century, namely The Love of Christ.
It was a glorious afternoon as Reeves opened up Sibbes’ book which is an exposition of The Song of Songs. Sibbes sees The Song of Songs as “nothing else but a plain demonstration and setting forth of the love of Christ to his church, and of love of the church to Christ.” One of the many things that struck me was how both Solomon and Sibbes are fetching for the highest language to describe the excellencies of Him who is “distinguished among ten thousand” (Song of Songs 5:12), our magnificent Lord Jesus. It reminded me of that line in the hymn ‘O sacred head once wounded’ which says, ‘What language shall I borrow to praise you, dearest Friend?’ What a great question! We live in a time when everything is ‘great’ and ‘wonderful’ and ‘brilliant’. And yet if we use superlatives to describe the mundane, how do we describe the One who is altogether lovely? So here’s something I am trying to do: reserve my superlatives for the Saviour. That is to keep the utmost language for my utmost Treasure. And to borrow whatever language I can to praise Him who is. The Puritans were good at doing that. So I am looking forward to reading Sibbes’, The Love of Christ.
Mike Reeves is one of the speakers at next year’s EMA. Book online here.
Readers of this blog will know that here at PT we’re about expository preaching. As well as doing what Martin Luther said and ‘beating our heads against the text until it yields’, expository preachers need to have both a strong biblical theology and a clear systematic theology. My hunch is that here in the UK at least, we’re stronger on the former than the latter.
Perhaps part of the problem is that there still hasn’t been a show-stopping systematic theology since Louis Berkhof published his in 1932. In terms of good recent ones, the two main ones have been by Wayne Grudem (Systematic Theology) and Robert Reymond (A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith). If these were Bible translations, Grudem’s is like the NIV (very accessible but not altogether accurate), and Reymond’s is like the ESV (much safer and more consistently reformed, but less accessible).
Help may well have arrived in the shape of Michael Horton’s new systematic theology just released from Zondervan – The Christian Faith, a Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way. I am hoping to read it properly over the summer, but dipping in it seems both very reliable and highly readable. Two things have caught my attention so far. The first is that union with Christ – a strangely neglected Biblical theme – plays a prominent part in Horton’s scheme. And second that Horton has a great section on how Scripture is a covenant document.
I’ll let you know more fully how good this new systematic theology is once I have read it properly. But early indications are that it looks like it might be the Berkhof of the 21stCentury….
Every now and again technology astounds me. Sometimes it astounds me with it’s capacity for evil (like the current web of gossip, deceit and betrayal unearthed by Twitter), and at other times with it’s capacity for good. Last week I stumbled across technology which falls firmly in the latter category. It is the Tyndale Toolbar which has been put together by Dr David Instone Brewer at Tyndale House in Cambridge. I’ll let him tell you about the wonders the toolbar can perform in this 3 minute video he has made here:
You can download the toolbar here: http://www.tyndale.cam.ac.uk/toolbar
For any serious Bible teacher this is a truly remarkable resource and one that will open up so many of the best Bible tools on the web.
Called to the Ministry?
Last Sunday I had the privilege of speaking to over 100 students at a lunch at St Andrew the Great Church in Cambridge. I was asked to speak on the question, ‘who is called into paid Christian work?’ Perhaps rather controversially, I kicked off by showing that the NT’s answer to that question is no one! That is there seems to be no biblical indication that the NT office of pastor requires a special ‘calling’ in the same way that prophets and high priests were called in the OT. Indeed, the NT seems only to use the word ‘calling’ to describe the call to the Christian life in general (e.g. 2 Tim1:8-9).
That said, I do believe that we need many men and women to give themselves to full time Christian ministry both in this country and overseas. So here were the 6 answers I gave to the question ‘who is called into paid Christian work?’ I won’t unpack them, but will give the Bible verses I took people to and hope you can see where I was going.
1. Those whom Christ appoints – Eph 4:11
2. Those whom the church identifies
3. Those who are godly in life – 1 Tim 3:1-7
4. Those who are gifted to teach – 1 Tim 3:2
5. Those who understand the times – 2 Tim 4:1-5
6. Those who are prepared to suffer – 2 Tim 4:7-8
In his book Called to the Ministry Edmund Clowney wrote this: ‘The stairway to the ministry is not a grand staircase but a back stairwell that leads down to the servants’ quarters.’ (p.43). May the Lord of the harvest raise up and appoint many servants for His harvest field. The Cornhill Training Course is a great toe in the water to see if full time Bible teaching ministry is for you. If you can’t give us 2 years, how about coming on The Cornhill Summer School in the last week of June?
Pride is our greatest enemy
A second year Cornhill student recently asked me a very good question: ‘what sins are our Cornhill year group particularly in danger of?’ This Sunday I am preaching on the shortest book of the Old Testament at Emmanuel Church Wimbledon. To save you checking your Bible indexes, the shortest book of the Old Testament is Obadiah. Without wanting to preach my sermon here, it has struck me in my preparation that the book shows us just how much God hates and will humble the proud. Edom, against whom much of the book is directed, is condemned for ‘the pride of your heart’ (Obadiah 1.3), a pride which came from her trusting in her wealth (Obadiah 1.6), her friends (Obadiah 1.7), her wisdom (Obadiah 1.8), and her warriors (Obadiah 1.9). And yet none of those things saved her when, a century after Obadiah’s vision, God brought down proud Edom through an Arab invasion just as He had promised.
And so the answer to the Cornhiller’s question is, I think pride. Pride is a danger for all Christians, and as CS Lewis famously said, ‘pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.’ But it is a particular danger for those of us at Cornhill who are working hard to understand and preach the Bible. My biggest fear is that we produce people who can preach the Bible – but are proud about it. For as John Flavel once wrote: ‘They that know God will be humble and they that know themselves cannot be proud.’ As we start this summer term at Cornhill (what for the 2nd years will be their final term), please join me in praying that we at Cornhill would know that pride is our greatest enemy, and humility our greatest friend.
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Rugby, red zones and the holiness of God
This morning I started teaching the first year Cornhill students the book of Leviticus. Whilst God’s holiness is clearly one of the most important themes in the book, there is a difference in the way it is talked about. So in chapters 1-16, the focus seems to be more on what we might call ‘zonal’ holiness, whilst in chapters 17-27 the focus is more on ‘character’ holiness. We tend to be more familiar with the former than the latter.
As we’re in the midst of the 6 Nations rugby tournament (come on, England!), I used an illustration from the king of sports to show the Cornhillers the difference between zonal holiness and character holiness. In rugby, ‘the red zone’ is the area of the pitch between your opponents 22 metre line and try line. That is the key area in terms of attack and defence. And in the Bible – especially in Exodus & Leviticus 1-16 – zones are very important. So God is the One who inhabits the red zone, the holy zone. And when God chooses to meet with His people, those places become holy. Places like Eden. And Sinai. Which is why God had to put strict limits on who can enter the zones He establishes. Or as Hebrews puts it, ‘the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood’ (Hebrews 9:6-7). And when we understand that, how glorious it is to read later, that ‘we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus’ (Hebrews 10:19). So brothers and sisters, through the blood of Jesus let us enter and enjoy life in the ‘red zone’.
The key to a new world: Union with Christ
A few months back I had an email from a former Cornhill student saying that he was doing a talk on 'Union with Christ' and asking me to direct him to resources to help him. So I gave him a crash course in Union with Christ. Happily, (though sadly not in time for the former Cornhill student), Justin Taylor has done a much better crash course here, and I would commend it to all who read the PT blog.
We don't talk much these days about our union with Christ. And yet it is the key to a new world, the key that unlocks so much of the New Testament and what it means to be a Christian. One of the reasons we think so little about it is because in much of our evangelism we have got the direction lop-sided. We tell people that we need to invite Christ into our hearts. Whilst the New Testament does talk about the glorious reality of 'Christ in us' (Colossians 1:27), it seems to talk a great deal more about believers being 'in Christ', which is the New Testament's favourite description of the Christian. In other words, the direction is less getting Christ into me, and more about me getting out of Adam and into Christ. So take Justin's crash course. And delight in and preach our union with Christ!
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Keeping the heart: help from John Flavel
I really appreciated Adrian's blog post on the importance of guarding the heart – thanks Adrian!. As I am involved with training preachers on the PT Cornhill Training Course, I see more and more how vital our hearts are as preachers. As well as Thomas a Kempis, I have benefited greatly from John Flavel's 'Keeping the Heart' which the good folk at Christian Focus have re-published in a very accessible format. Here's how Flavel kicks off:
'The heart of a man is his worst part before it is regenerated, and the best afterward; it is the seat of principles, and the foundation of actions. The eye of God is, and the eye of the Christian ought to be, principally fixed upon it. The greatest difficulty in conversion is to win the heart to God; and the greatest difficulty after conversion, is to keep the heart with God' (p 7).
The Puritans used to talk about the need to hold orthodoxy (correct doctrine), orthopraxis (correct actions) and orthocardia (correct heart) We tend to think a lot about the first two of those. If you want help with the last one – orthocardia – Flavel is a wonderful heart surgeon.
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