Thoughts on Thursday: Whatever presses upon them…

Today’s thought (or, quote) comes from John Owen, in his book Communion with the Triune God, a book well worth owning and digesting slowly.  Here it is:

“‘His banner over me was love’ (Song 2:4).  The banner is an emblem of safety and protection – a sign of the presence of a host.  Persons belonging to an army do encamp under their banner in security.  So did the children of Israel in the wilderness’ every tribe kept their camps under their own standard. It is also a token of success and victory (Ps. 20:5).  Christ has a banner for his saints; and that is love.  All their protection is from his love; and they shall have the protection his love can give them.  This safeguards them from hell, death – all their enemies.  Whatever presses on them, it must pass through the banner of the love of the Lord Jesus. they have, then, great spiritual safety; which is another ornament or excellency of their communion with him.”

From John Owen, Communion with the Triune God, 141.

Where Are All the Brothers? A Review

I recently read a book intended to be given to men giving them legitimate answers concerning typical reasons why they are not present in N. American churches.  It’s called Where Are All the Brothers? by Eric Redmond.

The book is written as a series of short answers to 9 common barriers, or questions, men have that serve as the basic motivations for not being part of a local church. Here is the full Table of Contents:

Introduction: What You Will Gain if You Give Me Ten Minutes of Your Life for Each of the Next Nine Days

1. Isn’t the Church Full of Hypocrites?
2. Wasn’t the Bible Written by Men?
3. Isn’t the Church Geared toward Women?
4. Isn’t the Preacher Just a Man?
5. Doesn’t Islam Offer More for Black Men?
6. Aren’t Some Churches Just After Your Money?
7. Is Organized Religion Necessary?
8. Jesus Never Claimed to Be God, Did He?
9. What to Look for to Find a Good Church

Appendix A: The Fulfillment of Old Testament Prophesies about Christ in the New Testament
Appendix B: The Church Does Not Welcome Homosexuals

Audience:  While the book is written almost like a tract – something to give to someone to convince them of something – I found it worthwhile to read as a future pastor who will have to wrestle with the  diminishing number of “Y” chromosomes in the church.  Redmond has given me, and all of us, some very good, solid, reasoned answers to a number of questions that can keep men from fully engaging in our churches, or even  just showing up.

Good:  I found this book not only informative and challenging, but extremely easy to read.  Redmond begins with a basic plea for readers to give just 10 minutes a day for 9 days, and that is an adequate amount of time to cover this book.  If you were to give it to somebody you were trying to persuade to come to church, any church, then that is a reasonable request, and could easily get through the book.  If that is your reason for reading the book, make sure you follow it up with some good conversations regarding each chapter.

Not-so-Good:  While I don’t want to be nit-picky, I am not a big fan of reading books that overly dialogical.  However, I think for what Redmond was trying to do, I don’t know how you could have written it any other way.  Its meant to be used as a resource to give to men you have friendships with over concerns regarding church involvement.  The dialogical nature works for this purpose.

Highlights: By far, Redmond does a great job all around.  I think his chapters dealing with the allure of Islam for men, and the all time favorite, “Doesn’t the church just want my money?” are his most insightful contributions to the issue.

Recommendation: I would say that if this is a concern for you, either in current church praxis or because of friendships you have where this is an issue, then Redmond’s book is a great resource, well worth having.  If your interest level is more on the intellectual, sociological plane, then this may be a book worth checking out, though it will not give you the detailed background and academic breadth you’re probably searching for.

Also check out CJ Mahaney’s comments about this book, and a couple of others worth checking out here (Sovereign Grace Blog).

Thoughts on Thursday: What does it mean to be missional?

I recently read an insightful post on what it means to preach “being missional” over at In the Time of Postmoderns I Was a Puritan.  Here’s an excerpt:

Being “missional” doesn’t mean just dropping the word in sermons hoping people will figure out what it means. It takes talking about specific issues of the church’s mission, grounding them in scripture exposition, and trying to engage your church into thinking about, planning, and pursuing missional goals communally; not merely planting ideas in people head’s that they will individually pursue once they leave the four walls of the church building. That kind of individualism is what is plaguing the church already, we don’t need to blindly continue in it.

He goes on to provide a brief but helpful list of several areas where we can dig in to what it means to be missional.  Read the whole post here.

Balancing Personal and Historical Application of Scripture

Michael Spencer, over at Internet Monk, has recently interviewed David Powlison regarding his contribution to the ESV Study Bible.  [If you are looking for a single, solid resource for your personal library, let me recommend this study bible to you.  It is not only a great translation of the Bible, but this Study Bible contains a wealth of supplemental material to help you understand the historical context of the Scriptures with pertinent, and not overpowering information.  Back to Powlison.]

His focus was on reading the Bible and personal application – a task which can often be divorced from understanding the original setting, context and application of the text to its original audience.

The whole interview is helpful (click here for the whole thing), but this quote I found most interesting:

[MS] Can a verse taken completely out of context still yield a Spirit-revealed application?

[DP] Just read the sermons of Charles Spurgeon! His applications were often wise and biblical because he had such a refined sense for the unified teaching of Scripture and Spirit. But he rarely communicates what any passage means in context, and I think that is a liability as a role model. Readers and preachers less grounded than Spurgeon will have fewer checks on the temptation to make odd applications.

I’d probably pose your question in a slightly different way, saying “yield a wise application” rather than “yield a Spirit-revealed application.” The Spirit is the source of all wisdom, for believers and unbelievers alike. If a secular psychotherapist says to an angry, entitled, manipulative husband, “You are angry, entitled, and manipulative, and you need to learn how to love your wife and not be so self-centered,” I’d rather say that those words are wise, cohere with Scripture, and express a common grace goodness of the Spirit, instead of saying they were Spirit-revealed. That counselor is missing the saving grace of Christ that is Spirit-revealed in the Word, and that ought to find expression in counseling.

Again, check out the ESV Study Bible (website here) or go to Amazon and order one.  It is well worth the investment.

Darrin Patrick on Michael Phelps, Greatness and God

Darrin Patrick has some good thoughts on the idea of greatness, sparked by the recent accomplishments of a certain Olympic swimmer (Michael Phelps, in case you have been out of it).  Check it out here.

Greatness reminds us that there is a God who is THE Greatest. Humans, reflecting the image of God can be awesome, but God is the one who is freakin awesome.

Preaching Application and Reductionisms

This comes from R. Scott Clark, as he responds to a common and false criticism Westminster Seminary California receives:  they don’t teach application in preaching.

He reflects on his time as a student, and I think, comes up with a helpful tool for all of us to incorporate into our study and preparation of God’s Word for God’s people.  Here’s what he had to say (remembering what some of his professors taught):

Bob Godfrey also taught a homiletics course. He used a slightly different method, which also produced three-point outlines, which was designed to drive the student back to the text. Having done the same exegetical work required by Volbeda, Kuiper, and Bergsma, Godfrey’s method was to ask a logical question of the text and to answer it from the text. Of course, this method requires one to ask a proper question, but the churches don’t ordinarily license insane people to preach and thus it shouldn’t be too difficult to do. What did Jesus say? Why did he say it? What does it teach us about sin, salvation, and service?

He goes on to say something that may be controversial (at least in some circles).  He says that the method of applying scripture through the lens of “biblical theology” – the narrative of scripture – can actually minimize the application of the scripture, leading to repeated reductionistic application (eg. “Don’t be a moralist”).  Here’s how Clark said it:

Some of us were exposed informally to a view that was more concerned about the flow of redemptive history and the unfolding revelation of the biblical eschatology (view of ultimate reality and heaven) that has roots in some modern Dutch-Reformed circles) than about the direct moral application of a passage. This view was attractive to some, especially to those who came out of moralistic backgrounds because it seemed to focus so directly on Christ and God’s grace). In retrospect it’s clear now that this movement did believe in application but in a very limited number of applications. One of the chief applications was, “Don’t be a moralist.” Sometimes this approach, particularly in the hands of a young preacher, could yield arcane sermons or sermons that were more like bible studies than sermons.

My thoughts haven’t quite formed yet, but there is something about this that I want to affirm, as well as critique.  In the meantime, you guys share your thoughts.  Is Dr. Clark right, in that preaching the text in light of the narrative often (not necessarily) leads to reductionistic application?

Anyone out there share your thoughts.  I would especially be interested in anyone out there who has been preaching in the pulpit for a few years to share with those of us who are less experienced.

Thoughts on Thursday: Prodigal Worship leads to Extravagant Care

This quote comes from Marva Dawn in her book, A Royal “Waste” of Time: The Splendor of Worshiping God and Being Church for the World. Here it is:

It may seem stange ot begin with observations concerning the fulture, but if we think about all that God is, we recognize the immesnity of his love for the world.  If by our worship we want to immerse our neighbors in the lavish splendor of God, then we must understand them more deeply than we often do.  Many of the bad decisions that are made about worship touch only the surface needs of our socitey and not hte hiden influences or powerful forces that make true worship both difficult and essential.

If we understand the genuine needs of our neighbors, we will see that the best gift we could offer them is our faithfulness in royally wasting our time in worship.  To be immersed in the prodigal splendor of God will lead us, in turn, to lavish extravagant care of the world.

The Dark Knight

Finally, a worthy critique!  Click here.

On a more serious note, I did find this movie to be entertaining and thought provoking, though not in an intentional way.  Ray Ortlund, a great man and pastor whom I respect and admire caught onto something of this (click here for post), in a way that I almost missed.  While I did not leave with the same passionate conviction he did, I totally agree that the “story” of the movie was not as redemptive as some people might want to make it out to be.

Some of us go to the movies for a relaxing, entertaining evening; others to engage in our culture and discern either false truths or echoes of eden.  These are both good reasons.  What I am afraid of is something someone over at Ray Ortlunds blog commented on: that we may become too numb in our entertainment driven culture to discern the stories being communicated.

What I found interesting in The Dark Knight is the question it held in tension:  when does righteousness become unrighteousness when dealing with unrighteousness?  A question under this one would be:  Did the Joker ultimately prevail in his endeavor?

[Spoiler alert - If you haven't watched the movie, and intend to, don't read the rest.]

I found the the resolution to the story of The Dark Knight to be a great conversation starter, but an unsatisfying solution.  We leave the movie supposedly swallowing that Batman is the hero because he and Gordon cook up a “spin” on the truth:  Batman takes the blame; Dent takes the heroic credit.  Batman is a self-imposed martyr for the sake of a people who don’t appreciate him like they should.

While this has a faint odor of the gospel story, it betrays something fundamental.  In this story, evil is not dealt with, but covered up.  And in the process righteousness is defined only in terms of the end, and factored out of the means of reaching it.

It doesn’t matter how we get there, just so long as we do.

But this betrays righteousness at its very heart.  And this is not the gospel story of the Bible.  Jesus Christ was the one who “became sin for us” but also the one who “knew no sin.”  The life of Jesus and his death on the cross, as the means to the end of our being made righteous before God, was righteous itself.

In the end, the Joker prevailed after all.  This is not the story of the gospel, but rather a Nietzsche-esque Yin Yang symoblism that passes for our contemporary worldview of life.  Evil is present, rampant and pervasive, and instead of truly dealing with it, we need to co-exist with it in a way that does the least damage for the most people.

Thoughts, comments…