Tuesday, December 29, 2009


James Anderson's answer for those who are troubled by whether they are among God's children:
All those, and only those, who come to saving faith have been redeemed by Christ. So the question of whether I have been redeemed by Christ reduces (like the question of whether I am elect) to the question of whether I have saving faith.
If I recognize that I am a sinner in need of a Savior, and that Christ is the only Savior of sinners, and I am looking to him alone for salvation, then I have every reason to believe that Christ died for me.

Grammar lesson

The teacher said:

A noun is a naming word.

What is the naming word in the sentence:

‘He named the ship LUSITANIA’?

‘Named’, said George.

Wrong, it’s ‘ship’.

Oh, said George.

The teacher said:

A verb is a doing word.

What is the doing word in the sentence:

‘I like doing homework’?

‘Doing’, said George.

Wrong, it’s ‘like’.

Oh, said George.

The teacher said:

An adjective is a describing word.

What is the describing word in the sentence

‘Describing sunsets is boring’?

‘Describing’, said George.

Wrong, it’s ‘boring’.

I know it is, said George.

Michael Rosen

Three religious truths

There are three religious truths:
1) Jews do not recognize Jesus as the Messiah.
2) Protestants do not recognize the Pope as the leader of the Christian faith.
3) Baptists do not recognize each other in the liquor store or at Hooters. ~Author Unknown

The Quote Garden

I certainly don't approve of, or agree with all of the quotes at this site, but I do like many of them and am grateful for the work that Terri Guillemets has done over the past twenty years collecting, and eleven years publishing such a great array of tidbits from thousands of sources.

The quotes are organised into more than 400 overlapping categories.

I enjoyed this quote today:
He who trims himself to suit everyone will soon whittle himself away. ~Raymond Hull

Monday, December 28, 2009

Slight hyperbole

Waxing enthusiastic about the new Logos 4 software, Marcus exclaimed:
There is no other way to study God's word than to use Logos Bible Software

A tad overstated, Marcus?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Are you a twit?

You don't have to be a twit to tweet.

I don't tweet, but I subscribe to John Piper's tweets via rss.

He writes pithy tweets which express the gospel succinctly, or which point to sites that will inform, challenge or encourage you. It is worth subscribing to read his terrific messages.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


As I walked through a Bathurst shopping centre yesterday, two things struck me:
A woman was saying to a little boy
He does see everything you do. If you don't behave you won't get that toy on Christmas Day.
Then, I heard two teenagers laughing rather loudly and then saw that they were amused by the things parents do to their children. A little girl was screaming her lungs out, as they tried to coerce her to have her photo taken with Santa.

How different is our gracious God from this myth that we foist on children! We try to manipulate them into being good by threats, then, on Christmas morning, they get the presents anyway.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Home school, state school or Christian school?

... or church school or Roman Catholic school or posh school or ...?

I like this post by Nicole Starling, in which she writes positively about sending your children to a public school, without rubbishing those who do otherwise.

We sent all four of our children to the local state school, but our second son went on to the Conservatorium high school, which is still a state school, but special for Music.

I like these excerpts, but the whole article is worth your time:
We've decided to send our children to the local public school because:

1. Our kids don't have any special needs that would require otherwise at the moment.
2. Our local state school is a good school and the kids will be taught well there.
3. There are a few other Christian families who also send their children to the school.
4. We want our kids to learn how to be followers of Jesus in the midst of the world, and learn to love their non-Christian neighbours. We want them to desire the salvation of their friends - to pray for them, to talk to them about Jesus. We believe that this is at the heart of what it is to be a disciple of Jesus, and essential to what we need to teach them as parents.

We don't do this naively. A local public school will have its own secularism that is anti-Christian. The teachers usually don't (explicitly, systematically) share their religious views at primary school, but everything they do will still be informed in some way by their own personal beliefs. And on a larger scale, the curriculum and structures of the school will be intentionally (and appropriately!) secular, and frequently (and inappropriately!) informed by the secularism of the majority of the politicians and bureaucrats who oversee them.

There will be all sorts of things that their teachers will say, out loud, about religion, sex, the environment, success, and so on, that are inconsistent with what the Bible says. And in addition, of course, there will be all the things they don't say; the six-hour-long silence, every day, in which they don't say anything about the God who made the world - all the things they think they can teach as if He was irrelevant. All of that is part of the deal, and we know that's the case!

So Dave and I don't just wave goodbye to our kids at the school gate and wish them luck! We pray with them, we talk about how they are to behave when they're there, we debrief in the afternoon when they get home and in the evening, when the stories finally come out. We try to get to know our kids' friends, to invite them round to our home to play, and to get to know their families. We aim to get involved in the life of the school - in the P & C, on the School council, in the classroom helping with reading - one day, maybe even Canteen duty! And we try to be vigilant with what happens at school, so that we don't just shrug our shoulders in resignation when things happen that are inconsistent with (good) policy.

There are still days when I do long to homeschool - but on days like that I try to remind myself that I am a homeschooler - just one who happens to send her kids out on a six-hour excursion to the local primary school for 200 or so days of the year. When they're off at school, we don't stop being responsible for them, and there are some vital things we need to teach them that would be very hard for them to learn without going there. (I don't mean maths and science and so on - I mean how to stand against the crowd, how to respect and obey non-Christian authorities, how to be overtly Christian in a non-Christian environment, and how to give an answer when they're asked about the reason for their hope.)

Our strategy is not to send them out into the minefields as child-soldiers, untrained and unarmed and unprepared. Our strategy is to send them out day by day, for part of the day, for part of the year, so that they will learn to be soldiers, both now and when they're grown up, and to do all we can to train and equip them along the way.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Many other 'saints' go unrecognised

I like this letter for many reasons.
My wife is a saint. And I don't need the Pope to confirm it.

For nearly 40 years she worked as a nurse in many parts of Australia easing the sufferings of the sick and helping to cure many. She is idolised by her three children and is a special nana to two adoring little girls.

Aged 74, she works in a charity shop, gives part of her age pension to Medecins Sans Frontieres and to World Vision to help a child struggling to survive in Gaza.

The Vatican has never heard of her. The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, never calls on a Sunday for a media photo opportunity. Yet she has performed scores of miracles in the 50 years I have lived with her. So why the fuss about Mary MacKillop?

Vincent Matthews Forestville

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Many Ways to Destroy a Church

Tim Challies cites this powerful passage from Don Carson's The Cross and Christian Ministry:
The ways of destroying the church are many and colorful.
Raw factionalism will do it.
Rank heresy will do it.
Taking your eyes off the cross and letting other, more peripheral matters dominate the agenda will do it-admittedly more slowly than frank heresy, but just as effectively over the long haul.
Building the church with superficial 'conversions' and wonderful programs that rarely bring people into a deepening knowledge of the living God will do it.
Entertaining people to death but never fostering the beauty of holiness or the centrality of self-crucifying love will build an assembling of religious people, but it will destroy the church of the living God.
sustained biblical illiteracy,
-all of these things, and many more, can destroy a church.
And to do so is dangerous:
If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple (1 Cor. 3:17).
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Functional Saviours

More thought-provoking stuff from Erik, the Irish Calvinist.
Erik cites this list from Mark Driscoll, which he says can help to reveal what we are really putting our trust in. We say Jesus is our Saviour, but what other saviours do we really run to. We might find out by asking these questions:
1. What am I most afraid of?

2. What do I long for most passionately?

3. Where do I run for comfort?

4. What do I complain about the most?

5. What angers me most?

6. What makes me happiest?

7. How do I explain myself to other people?

8. What has caused me to be angry with God?

9. What do I brag about?

10. What do I want to have more than anything else?

11. What do I sacrifice the most for in my life?

12. If I could change one thing in my life what would that be?

13. Whose approval am I seeking?

14. What do I want to control/master?

15. What comfort do I treasure the most?


Halfway down the stairs

Halfway down the stairs
Is a stair where I sit:
There isn't any other stair quite like it.
I'm not at the bottom,
I'm not at the top:
So this is the stair where I always stop.

Halfway up the stairs
Isn't up, and isn't down.
It isn't in the nursery, it isn't in the town:
And all sorts of funny thoughts
Run round my head:
"It isn't really anywhere! It's somewhere else instead!"
(A A Milne)

And I'm halfway through reading the ESV Study Bible, which my daughter and her husband kindly gave me for Christmas last year.

I made a simple Excel file to track my progress and was amazed this morning to find that I was further through the Old Testament than New Testament, because, mostly, it is easier to read the New Testament and it is also much shorter. [There are 929 chapters in the Old Testament, but only 260 in the New.]

So I read Titus to bring me up to 50% with the NT so that the two testaments would match.

I recommend reading through the ESV Study Bible, but I think reading through the Bible alone in a version such as The Books of The Bible: a presentation of Today's New International Version before you read a version with notes and introductions is a good plan.

Friday, December 18, 2009

John Donne's Christmas sermon

John Donne was not just a great poet. If the rest of his sermon was as good as the opening, it must have been a cracker:

The whole life of Christ was a continuall Passion; others die Martyrs, but Christ was born a Martyr… His birth and his death were but one continuall act, and his Christmas-day and his Good Friday, are but the evening and morning of one and the same day.

—John Donne, opening his Christmas sermon (Dec 25, 1626).

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Old quote on The Bible

THIS BOOK contains
the mind of God,
the state of man,
the way of salvation,
the doom of sinners
and the happiness of believers.

Its doctrines are holy,
its precepts are binding,
its histories are true,
and its decisions are immutable.

Read it to be wise,
believe it to be safe
and practise it to be holy.

It contains
light to direct you,
food to support you
and comfort to cheer you.

It is
the traveller’s map,
the pilgrim’s staff,
the pilot’s compass,
the soldier’s sword
and the Christian’s charter.

paradise is restored,
heaven opened
and the gates of hell disclosed.

Christ is its grand object,
our good is its design
and the glory of God its end.

It should
fill the memory,
rule the heart,
and guide the feet.

Read it
and prayerfully.

It is
a mine of wealth,
a paradise of glory,
and a river of pleasure.

It is given you in life,
will be opened in the judgement,
and will be remembered forever.

It involves the highest responsibility,
will reward the greatest labour,
and will condemn all who trifle with its sacred contents.

Suggested TNIV marketing slogans

I like these cheeky slogans, from Scripture Zealot. Good fun
NIV – the bad boy Bible. Hated by Piper, Sproul and MacArthur enough for them to mention it in their sermons!

TNIV – not your father’s Bible

TNIV – we like chicks

TNIV – the best Bible you’ve never heard of

TNIV – Christianity’s best kept secret

TNIV – we catch the flack so the NLT doesn’t have to

The NIV is yesterday’s Bible; use the TNIV

Spurgeon comments on the teachings of Calvin and on Arminians

C H Spurgeon:
There is no soul living who holds more firmly to the doctrines of grace than I do, and if any man asks me whether I am ashamed to be called a Calvinist, I answer — I wish to be called nothing but a Christian; but if you ask me, do I hold the doctrinal views which were held by John Calvin, I reply, I do in the main hold them, and rejoice to avow it.

But far be it from me even to imagine that Zion contains none but Calvinistic Christians within her walls, or that there are none saved who do not hold our views. Most atrocious things have been spoken about the character and spiritual condition of John Wesley, the modern prince of Arminians. I can only say concerning him that, while I detest many of the doctrines which he preached, yet for the man himself I have a reverence second to no Wesleyan; and if there were wanted two apostles to be added to the number of the twelve, I do not believe that there could be found two men more fit to be so added than George Whitefield and John Wesley. The character of John Wesley stands beyond all imputation for self-sacrifice, zeal, holiness, and communion with God; he lived far above the ordinary level of common Christians, and was one ‘of whom the world was not worthy.’

I believe there are multitudes of men who cannot see these truths, or, at least, cannot see them in the way in which we put them, who nevertheless have received Christ as their Saviour, and are as dear to the heart of the God of grace as the soundest Calvinist in or out of Heaven.

Australians Think Highly of Jesus

Survey by the Centre for Public Christianity finds that Aussies think highly of Jesus.
The majority of Australians think Jesus was a real historical figure who was a good influence on the world, and that Christian Christmas carols should be sung in public, according to a survey commissioned by the Centre for Public Christianity (CPX).

A national representative research-only panel survey by McCrindle Research of 501 Australians of mixed beliefs (55% Christian, 45% other) has found that 91% are supportive of religious songs in public at Christmas time, with only 1.7% strongly opposed to it.

Only 3% of Australians think that Australia would be better off without Christianity and 63% of us think we would be worse off without it.

Dr Greg Clarke, Director of CPX, said, “This is the opposite view to that of a New Atheist such as Christopher Hitchens, who claims that religion poisons everything. When it comes to the Christian faith, the Australian public doesn’t buy that.”

Australians seem to have a very high regard for Jesus, even when they are not Christians themselves. Half (49%) of all Australians think Jesus was the most important figure in history and 72% think he was “a good influence on the world”. But even among non-Christians, 22% consider Jesus to be history’s most important figure and 32% of non-Christians consider him to be the “Son of God”. 6% of Australians think Jesus was not a real historical figure.

When asked about the historical accuracy of the account of Jesus’ birth in the Bible, 60% consider it to be “accurate” or “roughly accurate”. 29% of Australians consider it to be “biased, inaccurate” or “myth”.

Director of CPX, ancient historian Dr John Dickson says, “It is fascinating to see people’s enduring trust in the basic historical nature of the Gospels—something that professional historians would applaud”. Dr Dickson said, “It’s in stark contrast with popular anti-religious writers who suggest that the Gospels are myth — a view shared by only 14.7% of Australians.”

Australians seem to enjoy Christmas, with 88% of respondents describing it as a “happy” time and 86% finding Christmas “enjoyable”. However, this comes at a price, with 68% of us also finding Christmas “exhausting” and 48% finding it “stressful”. It’s a darker experience for 12% of Australians, who find Christmas “miserable”. 46.7% of Australians find it a “spiritual” time, suggesting that for half of us there is more to Christmas than retail opportunities.

Despite the strong positive associations with Jesus, 72% of Australians consider “spending time with family” to be the most important thing about Christmas and 42% say they definitely won’t attend church this Christmas. However, more people remain undecided than anything else (44.5%), giving churches a last-minute opportunity to win people to their services this year!

Losing your religion?

Love this quote from John Dickson:
Rejecting Christianity for the failure of Christians to live Christianly is a bit like rejecting Johann Sebastian Bach after hearing your child attempt one of these cello suites...We have to learn, however hard it is, to distinguish between the beautiful composition, and the sometimes crappy performance of the church" (John Dickson - "Losing My Religion")

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Helping someone feeling badly

Mark Baddeley [hence the title] has written a lengthy, very helpful article at The Sola Panel about how we can help our friends who are experiencing depression.

It is a terrific article, as are the comments and comments on comments.

Here is my summary of what he says.

Don't tell your friend to just get over it.
Don't even tell him to trust God.
The effect of this is giving him one more thing to whip himself with, because he is already accusing himself of failure for not trusting God.

And your solution can sound like telling him to fix himself up by his action of trusting in God.

Some people have burdens greater than they can bear, which is why God tells us to bear one another's burdens. The only way some people will get through is with others helping to carry their burdens.

Instead of telling your friend to pray, pray for him yourself. Do for him what he would do, if he could.

Instead of telling him to trust God, give him a reason to trust God.
Talk about how great and good God is; how his mercies are ever renewed; how we don't have to muster up faith to get access to his grace; how he holds us up even as we trip and fall; how the Father who gave up his eternally loved Son for us when he and us were at each other's throats is a Father who is really there for us now that we are his children.
Talk about God to them—as though that is life itself.
Finish by saying, “He's on your side; he's going to carry you through this, however bad it gets”. Sometimes it's okay to just declare the promises of God and not ask for any response in the short-term.

Sometimes people need to be told, “Trust God!”; sometimes people need to hear “God can be trusted!” The downcast are in the latter camp. Serve them by sensitively exalting the God of life in the face of death.

Steve on Bill

Steve Runge reckons Bill's article does not accurately explain the use of αυτος in the beatitudes.

And he argues persuasively.

However, I still think we are left with Jesus telling us that the poor in spirit are those who will be blessed, etc, etc.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Bill on the Beatitudes

Thanks to Gordon Cheng for this one.
One of the most theological powerful and provocative uses of the emphatic third person pronoun is in the beatitudes. All have the same construction. “Blessed are the … for they (αυτοι) will ….” The nuance of αυτος is that they they alone will receive the blessing.

1. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
2. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
3. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus is not saying that the poor in spirit, among others, are blessed. He is saying that they and they alone will inherit the kingdom. The merciful, and they alone, will receive mercy. Only those who are persecuted with inherit the kingdom. The meaning of the αυτος is nuanced, but it is there, and its force is devastating to much of modern theology and its easy believism.

Notice that it does not say, “Blessed are those who have had a conversion experience, for theirs is the kingdom.” In fact, Jesus later says that many who claim to have done great things for him are in fact strangers (Matt 7:23). What will you do with this?

My suggestion is to first of all confirm that I correctly understand the emphatic use of αυτος. (I am.) Secondly, ask yourself if your theology can handle this. If you have been following my blog for very long, you have probably gleaned that I am moderately reformed. But what I most try to be is biblical, and the Bible says that God shows mercy only to those who have shown it themselves. That the only people who will be filled are those who hunger and third for [His] righteousness. That the only ones who will inherit the kingdom are those who are poor in spirit and have been persecuted for that fact.

Talk of this kind is often met with angry blog comments, but the fact of the matter is that this is what the Greek text says. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs, and theirs alone, is the kingdom of God.”

If a person’s theology can’t handle that, then their theology is simply wrong. How does the emphatic αυτος fit your theology?

Support for School Chaplaincy

I have just read a great article in my wife Joan's War Cry. [A great weekly magazine that is always worth reading.]

On 21 November, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd became the first serving PM to address the Australian Christian Lobby’s national conference.

He spoke positively of the role of school chaplains and argued that it is proper for governments to fund them.

In part of his speech, he spoke about Allan and Kari Taylor, a couple in their 50s, who were killed in the most tragic circumstances in a road accident on the Sunshine Motorway. They were both involved in school chaplaincy. The impact of their lives was so great that more than 3000 people attended their funerals.

Mr Taylor believed so much in the value of the school chaplain that he stood down from being a school principal and took a big pay cut so that he could serve in that role.

The title above is a link to his speech in which he commits the government to ongoing funding.

David McKay

Monday, December 14, 2009

Three truths that change your life

The article below comes from The Gospel Coalition website, but was written by Justin Buzzard, a San Francisco pastor.
This fall I’ve been thinking through 3 truths. These 3 truths have been changing my life. If only one or two of these truths were true, the change wouldn’t be dynamic—you need all 3 to be true for the power of fear, anxiety, and insecurity to shrink in your life.

#1. God is Sovereign

God is sovereign. Nearly every page of the Bible proclaims God’s absolute sovereignty, his supremacy and power over all things. Every detail of your life, the decisions of kings and presidents, the lifespan of sparrows, swine flu, today’s weather, and each passing second of human history takes place under the umbrella of God’s sovereignty. God is in control of everything. Nothing is outside of God’s control.

If a single circumstance in the universe could occur outside of God’s sovereign control, then God is not God and he cannot be trusted. But the Scriptures reveal that God is completely sovereign and can be completely trusted.

For I know that the LORD is great, and that our Lord is above all gods. Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps (Psalm 135:5-6).

#2 God is Wise

God is wise. Nearly every page of the Bible speaks of God’s infinite wisdom. God looks down upon the galaxies and upon your problems, plans, and prayers with perfect perspective. God is never confused, worried, or uncertain about the course of this world or the course of your future. God never makes mistakes. Yesterday God governed the universe with infallible wisdom. Today God is doing the same. Tomorrow and forever God will govern the galaxies and the ghettos with absolute wisdom.

If God were sovereign, but not wise, we could not trust him. We’d always be worried about him making a mistake, always thinking we know better than God. But from Genesis to Revelation we encounter the portrait of a completely sovereign and completely wise God who can be completely trusted.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes (Proverbs 3:5-7a)

#3 God is Good

God is good. Nearly every page of the Bible testifies that God is good, that God is loving. Not an inch of evil, deceit, or indifference dwells in God. God is love. God abounds in steadfast goodness, love, mercy, and grace. The Bible tells a single story of a good God taking relentless action to love, rescue, and bless people who don’t deserve it. God has always been good and always will be good. God’s goodness is not a mood. God’s goodness is not a mood that changes based upon your performance or circumstances, his loving goodness is an eternally-solid attribute that the fires of hell cannot melt.

If God were sovereign and wise, but not good, you could not trust him. People who are powerful and smart, but not loving, scare me. We’d live endlessly insecure lives if we knew God to be sovereign and wise, but not also good. But the Bible consistently presents a threefold picture of God as totally sovereign, wise, and good, as one who can be totally trusted.

The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made (Psalm 145:8-9).

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:9-10).

Preach These 3 Truths to Yourself

For the past few months I’ve been preaching these 3 truths to myself over and over again.

I do this because, by default, I don’t navigate life as though God is sovereign, wise, and good. Over the past year I’ve been convicted that my actions and attitudes reveal that I operate as though God is mostly sovereign, somewhat wise, and kind of good. I would never say I believe this, but my living reveals that I’ve built much of my life of a vision of God that is much smaller than the Bible’s gigantic vision of God as completely sovereign, wise, and good.

I feel Satan has been quick to attack me in this season, quick to lodge in my mind doubts about God’s sovereignty, wisdom, and goodness. And I imagine, in these uncertain times, Satan is quick to attack many of you, quick to tempt you to view God through your circumstances rather than view your circumstances through a biblical lens.

So, join me. Fight back. When you wake up in the morning, when you feel anxious or discouraged, when you’re driving home from work, preach to yourself: “God is Sovereign! God is Wise! God is Good!” Say this to yourself over and over again. Choose to live by faith, rather than by sight.

Forget your past. Forget how you used to operate, how you used to be a prisoner to your circumstances and feelings. Build your life on the truth. Preach more gospel to yourself. Tell yourself every hour that God is sovereign, wise, and good. The truth will set you free. Your emotions will begin to come in line with the truth.

Doubt your old doubts and saturate yourself in the Scriptures. Be transformed by the renewal of your mind. Read and meditate on and pray through your Bible with this threefold lens, always on the hunt for indications of God’s sovereignty, wisdom, and love. Meditate on Romans 8 or Matthew 6 or Psalm 139. Soak in a book like Jerry Bridges’ Trusting God.

Let your imagination begin to be filled with true images of God. See him as sovereign. See him sitting on his throne, wise and good. See Jesus—behold what he did for you at the cross, the place where God’s sovereignty, wisdom, and goodness show in clearest expression. Never again think of yourself or your problems or your plans without Jesus and his blood shed for you in clear view. Let the Spirit sanctify you and your brain chemistry as you rebuild your life on a true vision of God.

God is Sovereign. God is Wise. God is Good.

These 3 truths have been changing my life. God is changing my life. May he change yours.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)

Justin Buzzard is a pastor at Central Peninsula Church on the San Francisco Peninsula and Editor-in-Chief of Commit magazine. Justin blogs regularly at the Buzzard Blog.

Being Gospel-centred

Justin Buzzard is publishing a new Christian magazine called Commit. This is a terrific article contained in the first edition, in which he reports on Don Carson's answers to four questions:

1. In a paragraph, what does it mean to be gospel-centered in one’s Christian life?

Some think of the gospel as so slender it does nothing more than get us into the kingdom. After that the real work of transformation begins. But a biblically-faithful understanding of the gospel shows that gospel to be rich, powerful, the wisdom of God and the power of God, all we need in Christ. It is the gospel that saves us, transforms us, conforms us to Christ, prepares us for the new heaven and the new earth, establishes our relations with fellow-believers, teaches us how to work and serve so as to bring glory to God, calls forth and edifies the church, and so forth. This gospel saves — and “salvation” means more than just “getting in,” but transformed wholeness. It would be easy to write many pages on how a gospel-centered ness affects all of life, but one must begin with a full-orbed understanding of what the gospel is and does.

2. What do you see happening with the gospel and my generation, the twentysomethings of the American church? Are you encouraged?

Cautiously, yes. It is still a day of relatively small things. But it is always encouraging to observe the substantial number of twentysomethings who want to learn what the Bible says, who are looking for faithful mentors, who are tired of the endless openness of some strands of postmodernism but who do not want to drift back into isolationism or privatized religion. Some from very culturally conservative Christian backgrounds are engaging in a pendulum swing toward “hip” stances that are barely orthodox, but they are winning almost no one except other people like themselves. In God’s grace, the future lies with that part of the younger generation that is passionate to understand, believe, and obey the truth, and who to that end are diligently studying the Word of God for themselves and learning lessons in contrition and joy, in humility and courage, in faith and obedience, that every generation of believers must learn.

3. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area we have a lot of work to do. This is a highly unchurched metropolitan area with great hostility to the gospel. What are a couple brief points of counsel you’d give to church leaders wanting to build (or re-build) a gospel ministry in a region like this?

Trust Christ; believe the power of the gospel; abandon short-term gimmicks; think big but start small and be faithful; meet with, work with, pray with, learn from, those who have a common set of commitments and vision.

4. What are a few key resources you recommend to your average church member who wants to better understand how the gospel is meant to drive the entirety of the Christian life?

Once again, the first step is to understand the gospel, for in doing so, its ties to all of life become luminous. Many of the sermons on thegospelcoalition.org treat such matters. At the risk of calling attention to individuals:
(1) Not a few of the sermons of Tom Nelson (on the site) talk about how the believer serves God in the normal responsibilities and cycles of work.
(2) Many of Tim Keller’s sermons do the same, with a greater emphasis on working in the arts, journalism, music, and so forth.
(3) For a challenge across the field, read John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life.
(4) To think through faithfulness in gospel proclamation and doing “deeds of mercy,” begin, perhaps, with a ten-page essay by Tim Keller in Themelios 33/3 (also on the site).
(5) For those especially interested in Christianity and the arts, see the lovely 64-page booklet by Phil Ryken, Art for God’s Sake: A Call to Recover the Arts (2006).
(6) For those interested in more global/political/theological analysis, try my Christ and Culture Revisited.
(7) Similarly, it is worth reading Andy Crouch’s Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling.
(8) There are some workshops that were offered at both the 2007 and the 2009 Coalition conference that bear on these matters, and they are available as acoustic downloads. Some of them are quite moving.

This is but the merest introduction. What you must not do, however, is become so interested in questions about how the gospel should drive our entire life and impact every dimension of life, that one begins to neglect the study of the Bible itself, and remove one’s focus from Jesus, his cross and resurrection, his gospel.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Progress report

I completed reading Deuteronomy and thus the Pentateuch today in the ESV Study Bible.

I have now read about 48% of this terrific study Bible and am currently reading Isaiah and Romans, with a Psalm every now and again.

Aussie Paul Barker's introduction and notes on Deuteronomy were very informative.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Lying: must we always tell the truth?

Some very helpful comments by John Frame, suuplemented by David Field
To be faithful to all of Scripture on this issue requires careful reading and thinking, as these two brothers have done.

The third and ninth commandments, especially, commend the truth to us, as do many other teachings of Scripture. God is a God of truth. He doesn’t lie (, , ). He wants us to image him in that as in other ways. Note the biblical polemic against lying in such passages as Psm. , , , , . Satan is the father of lies, , and sinners are dominated by lies, Cor. Thess. . Scripture condemns false prophets, who tell lies about God, .

But there are other passages in which people mislead other people without incurring biblical condemnation. Note:

1. , the Israelite midwives in Egypt.
2. , , , Rahab’s deception. Note that apart from what Rahab told her countrymen, even hiding the spies amounted to a deception.
3. , the ambush at Ai. As John Murray recognizes, God himself authorized this deception.
4. , Jael and Sisera.
5. , Samuel misleads Saul as to the reason for his mission.
6. , Michal deceives her father’s troops.
7. , David’s counsel to Jonathan.
8. , David feigns madness.
9. , David lies to Achish.
10. , another military deceit.
11. , Hushai counseled to lie to Absalom.
12. , women deceive Absalom’s men.
13. , God sends a lying spirit against Ahab.
14. , Elisha misleads the Syrian troops.
15. , Jeremiah lies to the princes.
16. , Jesus acts as if he intends to go further.
17. , God sends powerful delusion so that his enemies will believe a lie.

Nevertheless, the predominant view among Reformed Christians is that we should never tell lies under any circumstances. This view was held by Augustine and has more recently been defended by John Murray in Principles of Conduct.

Murray explains the above passages by the following principles: (1) In some of them, such as #2, Scripture commends what the liar accomplished without commending his/her lie. (2) As in #5, it is legitimate to withhold the whole truth from someone, but not to misrepresent. (3) As in #3, we need not always act in ways consistent with the mistaken interpretations of our acts made by others (in this case, the residents of Ai).

The first explanation is inadequate in regard to Rahab, for what Scripture commends is precisely her concealment, her creating a false impression in the minds of the Jericho officials.

As for the second principle, we can grant that it is sometimes right to withhold truth. But the question is whether it is ever right to withhold truth when withholding it may reasonably be expected to create a false impression in someone else’s mind. If it does, as it did in and other passages on our list, then it can scarcely be distinguished from lying.

And the third principle depends on a sharp distinction between words that mislead and acts that mislead. Murray is saying in effect that we should never mislead with our words, but we may mislead people by the way we behave. That distinction is not cogent.

And none of these explanations helps us to understand why God himself deceives people in passages #13 and #17.

Charles Hodge says that we are obligated to tell the truth only when there is a “virtual promise.” Essentially, Hodge here is placing the burden of proof on those who wish to require truthfulness. But it is not clear what a virtual promise is, or what the criteria are for concluding that one has or has not been made.

Meredith Kline explains the biblical examples of deception as “intrusion.” In his view, the ethics of the end-times differ from the ethics God has given to us in the law and Jesus’ teaching. In normal times, we are to love our enemies and protect them. But in the end times, the enemies of God will have neither a right to life or a right to truth. Now sometimes, Kline says, the end times enter our present time (and so “intrude”). The intrusion is a time of divine judgment, and, in that time, it is legitimate to kill the opponents of God (as did Joshua and David) and also to withhold truth from them.

Scripture, however, does not distinguish two different ethics. Some of God’s commands (like God’s command to Joshua to kill the Canaanites) are for temporary situations. And Kline is right to say that often those situations are instances of special divine judgments. But capital punishment and just war are also subjects of regular, normative ethics. There are times even in advance of final judgment when the wicked deserve to lose their lives. Perhaps even such “normal capital punishment” can be assimilated to the intrusion model, but if so we need to know that intrusion is a normal part of our ethical life, as limited and defined by God’s revelation.

It does appear that the Bible passages listed above all have to do with the promotion of justice against the wicked who are seeking innocent life. Whether or not we speak of these as intrusions, we should note that in the ninth commandment the requirement to tell the truth is conditioned on a relationship, that of “neighbor.” In context, that relationship is specifically legal. The neighbor is the defendant, and the individual “you” is called to the witness stand, in which he must not lie.

This is not to say that the commandment is limited to legal witness, for many other Bible passages, as we have seen, condemn lying more generally. But in these passages, our obligation to tell the truth is based (as in the ninth commandment) on a relationship. In , the relationship is our union with one another in Christ.

Now when one person seeks illegitimately to take the life of another, are the two people neighbors, in the sense of the ninth commandment? The Good Samaritan parable does, indeed, extend the meaning of “neighbor” to all needy people who cross our path. But in the situation where someone is seeking to destroy innocent life, rather than to help and heal, does such a neighborly relation exist? I think not. At least, I doubt that those who misled others in the seventeen passages mentioned earlier were in a neighborly relation to their opponents. Certainly those who deceived in those passages didn’t think so. And I think Scripture concurs in their judgment.

There are also other, more trivial situations where questions of truth enter the discussion. Is it wrong to mislead people as a practical joke? No, if it’s a sort of game that will bring enjoyment; not if it hurts. Is it wrong to engage in the flatteries that are a normal part of social etiquette (“Sincerely yours,” “I had a lovely evening.”)? In my judgment, many of these phrases have come to mean far less than a literal reading of them would indicate. Since everybody knows that, it is not hypocrisy to use them that way.


DF – some other considerations:
a) we are not obliged to say everything about everything every time we speak. Our communications are necessarily marked by deletion, generalizations, selection, and framing;
b) context – as seen above (deliberately deceiving in a rugby game etc). Frame touches on this above;
c) what is being sought – if asked about how clothes look, what is being sought might be affirmation rather than information – e.g. not “I don’t like the colour” but, “you look lovely whatever you wear”;
d) the use to which what is said will be put. In war, the enemy has already forfeited the right to life (by being guilty of murder / attempted murder) and may be thought, therefore, to have forfeited also the right to truth. Or, another example, if the use to which the truth is going to be put is itself sinful (murderous, for example) then I am under no obligation to give the truth;
e) the person we are speaking to. Children may not be able to process some truth and so we withhold it from them. The same may be true of some patients. Love means seeking and working for the well-being of the other person and at times that well-being is not secured by telling them the truth;
f) however, the temptation to “play God” and decide that we know best is great. So is the temptation to withhold truth for selfish reasons and then rationalize using one of the arguments above.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Jesus Has AIDS

Arresting message from Russell Moore, reminding us of Jesus' words in Matthew 25.