Rejoicing in the active obedience of Christ
As evangelicals we love the work of the cross. We rejoice in the fact that are sins and impurities are washed away – yes! All of them, wiped clean. But justified does not mean "just-as-if-I'd-never-sinned" – that is too simplistic. For the work of salvation is to pass to us the righteousness of Christ. Sin wiped clean makes me a moral nothing. Sin wiped clean and righteouness imputed makes me like Christ himself before the throne of the Father. We mustn't lose sight of this great truth which completes the picture. It dawned on me afresh as I read Hebrews 10 this morning and saw that Christ's sacrifice was acceptable to God because of his perfect obedience. It is this obedience that makes his death sufficient and "does away with the first [old covenant sacrifices] in order to establish the second."
Each morning I try to write myself a short prayer as an aide-memoire to what I have learnt; here is today's:
Precious Jesus, thank you for your perfect obedience to your Father in coming to earth and living as he called you to live. Thank you that your perfect obedience made your sacrifice acceptable and effective. I praise you for your holy life – that never a sinful word; never an impure thought; never a wrong action was ever yours. Thank you that despite temptation, you always took the Father's way. How wonderful that you never procrastinated or neglected to do the works of love. And I praise you that this righteous life, the life I read about in the gospels, is mine before our Father's throne. Thank you for the great salvation which has removed my sin and clothed me in your perfect righteousness. Amen.
This great theme is represented in all the major confessions, perhaps most explicitly in Q60 of the Heidelberg catechism: "as if I had never committed nor had any sins, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me." But it features in few modern songs about redemption. One springs to mind:
All the claims of Satan's curse
Lifted through His offering,
Satisfied through suffering;
All the blessings He deserves
Poured on my unworthy soul.
(That's from Loved before the dawn of time). Perhaps we need more on this? Incidentally, Wesley's anthemic "Yes, finished the Messiah dies" captures it perfectly:
In Christ accepted and brought near
and clothed in righteousness divine;
I see the path to life made clear
amd all your merits Lord are mine.
Rubbish church names and why it doesn’t really matter
I've been preaching this weekend on Hebrews 9 and I am confirmed in my suspiscion that my church has a rubbish name. Theologically, that is. East London Tabernacle. Trouble is, there are only two tabernacles – the one that belongs to the "present age" (i.e. the tabernacle/temple of the old covenant – Hebrews 9.9) and the one that belongs to the "time of reformation" (i.e. heaven itself – Hebrews 9.10). Our tabernacle doesn't really fit into the pattern. Period. Our church was, essentially, a Spurgeon plant. He was big on taberncales.
Mind you, my last church didn't start off too well either. It started life as Zoar Baptist Chapel – that's zoar (Hebrew) meaning little (which it was) or…. insignificant (which hopefully it was not).
But in neither case does it really matter. The average Joe Punter doesn't understand tabernacle any more than he understands the nuances of Hebrew or, for that matter, why some evangelical churches are named after saints. These things don't mean what they would have done, even 50 years go. Now they're just names. Sure, our name may be theologically flawed, but for the majority of outsiders whom we are looking to reach, I don't think it really matters. In fact, around us, locals endearingly refer to the church as "The Tab." That means even less to them than tabernacle would and it is good to be well known in the community to have an affectionate name.
So our name is rubbish. But it really doesn't matter.
(BTW, the picture is of the old building, kindly reordered for us by the Luftwaffe).
From today we're shut for the Easter holidays until Tuesday 26th April. Then we're back for a couple of days before we are graciously given another day off for a royal wedding. (On which note have you seen the latest T-mobile ad!!?). All of which thinking about Easter led me to this old favourite prayer from Valley of Vision:
O Lord, I marvel that thou shouldst become incarnate,
be crucified, dead, and buried.
The sepulchre calls forth my adoring wonder,
for it is empty and thou art risen;
the four-fold gospel attests it,
the living witnesses prove it,
my heart's experience knows it.
Give me to die with thee that I may rise to new life,
for I wish to be as dead and buried
to sin, to selfishness, to the world;
that I might not hear the voice of the charmer,
and might be delivered from his lusts.
O Lord, there is much ill about me- crucify it,
much flesh within me- mortify it.
Purge me from selfishness, the fear of man, the love of approbation,
the shame of being thought old fashioned,
the desire to be cultivated or modern.
Let me reckon my old life dead because of crucifixion,
and never feed it as a living thing.
Grant me to stand with my dying Saviour,
to be content to be rejected,
to be willing to take up unpopular truths,
and to hold fast despised teachings until death.
Help me to be resolute and Christ-contained.
Never let me wander from the path of obedience to thy will.
Strengthen me for the battles ahead.
Give me courage for all the trials, and grace for all the joys.
Help me to be a happy, holy person,
free from every wrong desire,
from everything contrary to thy mind.
Grant me more and more of the resurrection life;
may it rule me,
may I walk in its power, and be strengthened through its influence.
Why do kings have jesters?
The third of Carl Trueman's church history track talks from New Word Alive focused on Blaise Pascal. I confess that, other than as a mathemetician, I knew very little about him. Perhaps his best known saying is Pascal's wager, which goes something like this:
If you're a believer and it all turns out to be false you haven't lost very much. If you're an unbeliever and it all turns out to be true, you've lost EVERYTHING.
The problem with this, said Trueman, is not only is it not biblical, it also contradicts much of what Pascal wrote elsewhere, so we're probably reading it wrong. In fact, in context (!), Pascal means this: "you live your whole life as a percentage game – everything you do is based on outcomes and logic – except this one question, which would look like this if you spelt it out. But you don't spell it out. Why? Because belief is ultimately a moral issue." Thus, Pascal's wager is not an apologetic for Christianity as it has sometimes been proposed – rather it is a rationale for why people reject God.
Along these lines, one of Pascal's most interesting questions was, "Why do kings have jesters?" In human terms they have everything they could need or aspire to. They want for nothing. We could modernise the question. Why do we always need entertainment? Why does every waking moment have to be filled when we have so much? The answer is, says Pascal, because the jester prevents the king from thinking about the one issue he really needs to face up to – death.
This is a profound insight into the modern culture. Entertainment, sport, music are ultimately distractions that prevent us from having to think about the real issues of life and death.
And that's why kings have jesters.
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Luther, preaching and the Universal Preaching Question
Mention "Luther" and "preaching" and the chances are you may be drawn into the debate about whether Luther believed in mediate regeneration. In particular it's this quote that gets people wondering:
I opposed indulgences and all papists, but never by force. I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word: otherwise I did nothing. And then, while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my Philip of Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it. I did nothing: the Word did it all. Had I wanted to start trouble . . . I could have started such a little game at Worms that even the emperor wouldn’t have been safe. But what would it have been? A mug’s game. I did nothing: I left it to the Word.
Mediate regeneration is, essentially, that the word converts rather than the Spirit. Guy Davies has answered this critique here, here and here. It's not actually what I want to post on. Rather, I wanted to make the point that so much of the good stuff Luther believed about preaching has been lost in the cloud because of this worthy debate.
It was joyful, therefore, to hear Carl Trueman last week at New Word Alive. He took the church history stream and taught on four fairly eclectic characters: Athanasius, Luther, Pascal and J Gresham Machen. I was very struck by what he said about Luther – and here I paraphrase: "Justification by faith is about a key exchange between us and Christ. We receive Christ's life. He gets our death. But how does that exchange come to us? Through God's voice – through preaching. It's what makes preaching so critical. Preaching is powerful because it brings the very presence of God. That's a key idea in the Old Testament where the absence of God mirrored the absence of his words."
This preaching – a declaration that God has done certain things in Christ – is at the heart of Christian ministry. And it's why, at the end of every sermon, Luther wanted to ask himself the question, "Have I taken people to the Lord Jesus Christ?"
And it doesn't matter what you think about mediate regeneration, or if you even understand it, that is surely the Universal Preaching Question.
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The motivation for “Christ’s glorious preacher”
Ooh, this is convicting for every preacher, isn't it?
Let therefore the man who undertakes the strain of teaching never give heed to the good opinion of the outside world, nor be dejected in soul on account of such persons, but labouring at his sermons so that he may please God (for let this alone be his rule and determination in discharging the best kind of workmanship, not acclamation, not good opinions) if, indeed, he be praised by men let him not repudiate their applause and when his hearers do not offer this, let him not seek it, let him not grieve for it. For a sufficient consolation in his labours, and one greater than all, is when he is able to be conscious of arranging and ordering his teaching with a view to pleasing God. Chrysostom, On the priesthood, v.7
Old John (344-407) was "one of the most glorious preachers of the early church, or indeed of the church in any age" says Nick Needham (2,000 Years of Christ's Power Volume 1, p234) and then he quotes Chrysostom's commentary on Genesis to show how, had he been living today, I like to think he would have been a PT boy (!).
I know the principles of allegory from the writings of others. Some preachers will not admit the ordinary meaning of the Scriptures. They will not call water 'water' but something else. They interpret a plant or a fish according to the fancy of their own imagination; they change reptiles and wild beasts into something allegorical just like those who interpret the meaning of dreams according to their own personal ideas. But when I hear the word grass, I understand that it means 'grass.'
He was fighting the Alexandrian method (allegorical) and was a great believer in what we would now call the grammactical-historical method (sometimes called the Antiochene method). As things developed it was these two different opinions that led to some of the great controversies about the nature of Christ. The Antiochenes took a literal view of Christ's humanity and so, at worst, split apart his two natures. The Alexandrians took a more allegorical view and considered the humanity of Christ, at worst, almost an allegory of his actual divine being.
Still, all sorted now….!!
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David Cook at New Word Alive
Today is the last day of UK Christian holiday/festival New Word Alive. It's normally a great time away. However, I'm writing this post before the event, so I can't say whether 2011 is as good as previous years…but I prophesy with confidence that it may well be! We have a great speaker lined up this week – David Cook from Sydney Missionary Bible College. David is also a PT author and his book Teaching Acts is one of our best sellers. You can buy it online here. Look out for a new pocket version Introducing Acts hopefully coming soon…….
Bock on Luke
Our Cornhill students are currently doing some practice classes with evangelistic messages – not easy. This week they're using Luke's gospel and I've been doing some prep using Darrell Bock's excellent resources. Some authors are clearly specialists in one particular book, and Bock's is clearly Luke. Bock is professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary and a great evangelical scholar. What I love about his work is that it is written at different levels which means that whatever your budget, you can access some of his work on Luke. This variety is good, because as you are about to see, a deep wallet is needed to own and read some of his work.
- Top of the pile is the two volume Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. These will set you back £72!! (If you have Logos and you buy them as ebooks you will pay even more – $120 which is equivalent to about £74). But these are cracking resources which will pay off in the long run. An alternative is to search around for second hand volumes – Amazon has some from £27 per volume. (BTW, Bock has also contributed the Acts volume in this series).
- More accessible and in one volume is the IVP New Testament Commentary. I find these of variable quality, but this one is good. It's yours for £12.99, newly out in paperback.
- Bock has also written the Zondervan NIV Application Commentary for Luke. Again, these are of variable quality, but Bock's volume on Luke is mostly very helpful indeed. RRP £17.99.
There's something for every preacher of Luke from his pen. All helpful. Here's what Carson has to say:
The Gospel of Luke is now well served by several major commentaries. Pride of place goes to the two volumes of Darrell Bock. it is recent, comprehensive, well written and intelligent. If you buy this one by Bock you do not need the other two commentaries on Luke that he has written….Bock's entry to the NIV Application series is one of the stronger volumes… (New Testament Commentary Survey Fifth Edition)
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PT Media Papers
There are three media papers on the PT website, all available as free downloads. We don't really produce these any more, but these three are top quality.
Sinclair Ferguson has written an excellent paper on preaching Christ from the Old Testament. This knotty issue that perplexes many ministers (and is a regular question on conferences and Cornhill) is addressed briefly but thoroughly by Sinclair. Well worth a look.
Willie Philip, now at St George's Tron and running Cornhill Scotland has written two papers, both excellent in their own way. The first addresses the whole question of biblical preaching. Don't think you know it all – this paper will reinforce the important place that preaching should have in any ministry. Even if it does not contain anything new for you, you will still find it stirring. His second is about preaching the OT Law. Now, Willie is a good presbyterian and I'm not sure he and I would agree on everything to do with the Law, I'm not entirely Westminster Standard on this. I guess many Christians would have slightly different views on the nuances of how we use the law etc. However, even for someone like me, there is a whole heap of stuff in this brief paper which is useful and helpful and I commend it warmly.
EMA 2007 audio from Tim Keller, Dick Lucas, Vaughan Roberts and others now free
‘Where there is smoke, there is fire. Criticisms are never completely baseless’
In the run up to this year’s EMA, we have just made the audio from EMA 2007 free to download. If you haven't been before, it’s a great foretaste of this year’s conference – especially as 2007 was the last time that Tim Keller spoke, and he’ll be back this year.
All the conference audio is available. The plenary sessions by Tim Keller focus on what it really means to be an Evangelical. Against a background of criticism from the wider world outside our movement, and fragmentation within it, it matters more than ever that we know exactly why we are evangelicals. And if we really believe these things, then they must shape our ministries and overcome our own cultural prejudices and failings.
The rest of the conference includes Dick Lucas taking us through Philippians; Vaughan Roberts looking at Daniel; Richard Cunningham on Persuasive Preaching; David Jackman on Training in the local church; and five seminars – Ministry in the City, Rural ministry, Who decides what the Bible means, the Emerging Church and Music and the Word.
This was the first PT conference I attended, and the first time I heard Tim Keller, so I'm hardly a disinterested party. But all the same, it really is worth listening to! You can download the conference here. And if that isn't enough for you, there is always more Tim Keller material – audio, written, etc. – at the Tim Keller wiki.
‘evangelicals are evangel people.’
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