Review of The Heart of the Church

The Heart of the Gospel, part of Joe Thorn’s three part series on the church, focuses in on  the most important aspect of the church the gospel. Thorn in his introduction demonstrates the fact that one of the primary problems the church has is the fact that it is not driven by the gospel which should be the central driving force of the church.

This book is comprised of three parts divided into twelve short and easy to read chapters. In the first section of this book Thorn addresses the gospel as the central theme running from Old to New Testament. In the closing two chapters of the first part the life, death and resurrection of Jesus are addressed. The third part of this book addresses the doctrinal truths of the gospel beginning with justification and its consequences and ending with sanctification and good works. The final section addresses the character and nature of God as revealed in the gospel.

Of the books in this series I think this one stands as the most important as it reminds pastors and church leaders of the central place the gospel is to have in the church, a place that it does not have in many churches. Without the gospel being central the aspects of character and life will never be what they need to be. In a day where there is increasing abandonment of the biblical gospel Thorn has given the church a wake up call to the supreme importance of the gospel, the whole gospel, for the very existence of the church.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of the book from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

Advertisements

Review of The Resurrection Fact

51x5Ck9kBaL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

The Resurrection Fact edited by John Bombaro and Adam Fransisco, released in time for Easter this year, provides an excellent defense of the resurrection of Christ against some of the more recent challengers.

A wide range of contributors address key objections to the resurrection, for example Mark Pierson provides excellent insight in historical matters surrounding the death and resurrection of Christ. Contrary to many skeptics the best historical evidence does demonstrate that it would be unlikely for Jesus body to have been left for scavengers. He did die and He was buried. Many of the chapters a list of recommended resources to dig deeper. Reading the modern ideas put forward in challenge to the resurrection of Christ it becomes clearly that the alternative explanations such as the swoon theory, mass hallucination, etc. all require a blind faith that ignores the clear historical evidence surrounding Christ.

Overall this book provides a good defense of the resurrection with each contributors demonstrating attention to details. I think this book would be a good one to place in the hands of students today as many will be confronted with objections that parallel those dealt with in this book.

Disclosure: I received an advanced review copy of the book from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

Review: Christ All Sufficient

A great frustration I have with many modern commentaries is the amount of space given to interacting with secondary sources as opposed to the text itself. Brian Hedges in Christ All Sufficient: An Exposition of Colossians avoids that and addresses the text first and foremost.

In ten chapters Hedges expounds the text of Colossians balancing doctrinal insight with an eye towards application. As Hedges notes while this is not a technical commentary, at the same time it isn’t what one would could consider a devotional commentary. This is commentary that is readily accessible to the everyday believer as well as a useful for any pastor working through this epistle. Hedges work is not overly dependent on secondary sources. Hedges makes clear the day to day implications this epistle has, especially the believers responsibility to live under Christ’s lordship as He is the all sufficient Lord of the Church who has reconciled the Church to himself through his shed blood.

I believe there is a great need for more resources like the one Hedges has provided here. There is in this exposition a laser focus on the text, which as I noted is rare to find in commentaries. Hedges also helps the reader think through issues of application while taking into account the cultural differences between our contemporary society and that of the Colossians. If you’re looking for a resource on Colossians that isn’t overly technical or a fluff commentary I would commend this resource to you.

Disclosure: I received a copy of the book from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

3 Thoughts for Thursday

index

This morning as I  saw some of the feedback concerning the debate and the election. Three thoughts occurred to me in regards to evangelical fears/concerns in regards to this election. Here they are:

1) What if we lose our religious liberty?

There is a great amount of fear among evangelicals regarding the issue of religious liberty in light of the presidential candidates. I think those most afraid are probably those least aware of the origins of Christianity. Just for reminder being a Christian means you claim to be a follower of the crucified Christ. We follow the Jesus who said this, “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours(John 15:20).” The Christian religion is the only one that is practiced best in situations of persecution. If religious protections are removed we just might get to see in America what authentic New Testament Christianity looks like. A simple survey of the Bible would demonstrate the only way to avoid persecution in this age is to compromise our faith, as Paul says “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived (2 Ti 3:12–13).” If we have Jesus we stand to lose nothing, no prison, no fine, no death sentence can separate us from the love of God in Christ. Fear not we have a God whose strength is made perfect in our weakness and religion the beauty of which is not clouded by persecution.

2) What about abortion?

The first Christians lived in a culture where the prevailing pagan mindset believed it was entirely acceptable to leave unwanted infants to die of exposure. They did not just complain of the evil and compromise of the world, they did something. Many of the early Christian apologists pointed to how Christians rescued those left to die of exposure as a proof of the genuineness of their faith. If all we do is talk about abortion and vote for candidates that profess to be pro-life we aren’t doing anything. Abortion was widespread even when illegal. We need to follow the example of the church and do something in addition to voting. We need to support our local crisis pregnancy, not just verbally but with our time and resources. We need to do everything we can to support those who seek to adopt babies that would be aborted. Talk is cheap. Let us love the unborn not in word alone but in deed and in truth.

3)You say you want a revolution…

It seems like a lot of people feel if ______ wins we should revolt. That’s not a Christian response. The only commands I see written in the context of corrupt tyrants is that the people of God are to pray for them and be subject to them. You want a revolution? Share the gospel, it will turn the world upside down. Be different, be holy, don’t be angry, don’t afraid. I close with Peter’s admonition to a church about to enter a fiery trial:

 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?  But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,  but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,  having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.  For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil(1 Pe 3:13–17).”

Spurgeon: A Model of Faithful Ministry

Charles Spurgeon stands above most other preachers in church history  and is still remembered today as the Prince of Preachers. Therefore it would be foolish for any minister to ignore the example and model of Spurgeon as a preacher of the gospel. Misconceptions have also surrounded the pulpit ministry of Spurgeon. Some have thought Spurgeon to be a lighthearted huckster in the pulpit, the truth is far from that. Dalimore says of Spurgeon:

In his regular Sunday work, he spent some time before the beginning of the services alone with God, feeling the awesome responsibility of preaching the gospel to lost mankind and pouring out his soul in prayer. On some occasions he seemed unable to go out and stand before the people, and the deacons found it necessary almost to lift him from his knees as the moment for commencing the service drew near…He preached with confidence, with clear instruction and heart-felt pleading, but as soon as the service was concluded he hastened away to his vestry, there to groan out before God his sense of failure (Arnold Dalmore, Spurgeon: A New Biography, p. 77)

We ought to emulate Spurgeon in how we view preaching. So often we are tempted in the ministry to be flippant and lighthearted when it ought not be so. Rather then trying to defuse the seriousness of the gospel and all that it entails we should embrace it as Spurgeon did. Our demeanor must reflect the weightiness of the gospel and the great value of the souls of the men and women to whom we are preaching the unsearchable riches of God in the person of Christ. Another area in preaching that we must emulate Spurgeon is in his Christ-centered preaching. It is easy to begin with a text that does not mention Christ by name and to do the same or tack Christ and the gospel on to the end of the message, this should not be so because all Scripture is a testimony to Him. In his work The Soul Winner Spurgeon says:

I believe that those sermons which are fullest of Christ are the most likely to be blessed to the conversion of the hearers. Let your sermons be full of Christ, from beginning to end crammed full of the gospel. As for myself, brethren, I cannot preach anything else but Christ and His cross, for I know nothing else, and long ago, like the apostle Paul, I determined not to know anything else save Jesus Christ and Him crucified. People have often asked me, “What is the secret of your success?” I always answer that I have no other secret but this, that I have preached the gospel,—not about the gospel, but the gospel,—the full, free, glorious gospel of the living Christ who is the incarnation of the good news (Charles Spurgeon, The Soul Winner, p. 106).

There is much ministerial wisdom in what Spurgeon says here about the content of a sermon. For Spurgeon the call to make sermons full of Christ was not rhetoric but the life blood of his ministry. One can read any of his sermons and find it filled with reference to the saving work of Christ. If we are to see spiritual health in our church, and see change wrought by the message then we must imitate Spurgeon’s faithfulness in lifting up and exalting Christ in every sermon.

Afraid to Come Clean

William Cowper begins his famous hymn “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood” with the words, “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins; And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.” This week I’ve realized something about my two toddlers that I think applies to people in general. What I’ve realized is that they have an aversion to coming clean. To elaborate the normal routine for a diaper change is first to track down the culprit creating noxious fumes, second comes the high speed chase through the house, and finally when the criminal toddler is cornered comes the screams of denial and usually accusations of the other sibling. For some strange reason they don’t want to be in a clean diaper. They don’t want to be clean. Jesus promises us in the gospel cleansing and forgiveness. In 1 John 1:9 we are told “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We don’t want to be clean. For some reason either because of our pride, shame, or love of darkness we run from the light when cleanness is promised. There’s joy in being made clean though C.S. Lewis in The Voyage of the Dawntreader illustrates this through Eustace who is cleansed of his dragon scales. Eustace describes his experience:

The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart.
And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt.
The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. . . .

Sin stinks worse then a dirty diaper, sin will drive others away from you quicker then a soiled diaper, cuteness can make the stink of a diaper a little more bearable, there’s nothing cute about sin. The question for you is what makes you afraid of coming clean?

Cheap grace and a theology of glory

image

I have several heroes from church history. Two of them happen to be Martin Luther and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. If you could ask them what was wrong with evangelicalism, particularly in America, I am confident they would respond cheap grace and a theology of glory. We’ve bought into the lies of the world and fallen in line with the old Adam, thinking we know better then God. At the same time we’ve made grace, religion, and Christ something to market and sell rather then exult in and receive. Bonhoeffer begins his masterwork The Cost of Discipleship with an explanation of cheap grace. The following are some particularly pointed insights:

Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares…Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system…Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner…Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.(pages 43-44)

What is called evangelicalism has for the most part lost the evangel. In many churches messages are preached with little or no mention of the saving work of Christ. Men and women are given an invitation to follow a Jesus they do not know and never warned to count the cost of discipleship. H. Richard Niebuhr put it well when he said, “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” He said that of the liberal social gospel, but now it is true of evangelicalism for the most part. We have bought into what Luther called long ago a theology of glory. Luther explains the theology of glory in the following:

Now it is not sufficient for anyone, and it does him no good to recognize God in his glory and majesty, unless he recognizes him in the humility and shame of the cross. Thus God destroys the wisdom of the wise, as Isa. [45:15] says, “Truly, thou art a God who hidest thyself.”

So, also, in John 14[:8], where Philip spoke according to the theology of glory: “Show us the Father.” Christ forthwith set aside his flighty thought about seeing God elsewhere and led him to himself, saying, “Philip, he who has seen me has seen the Father” [John 14:9]. For this reason true theology and recognition of God are in the crucified Christ, as it is also stated in John [14:6 and] 10[:9] “No one comes to the Father, but by me.” “I am the door,” and so forth (Thesis 20).

We want to know God only in his glory and majesty, we don’t want to know him in suffering and in the shadow of the cross. We want a Christ without a cross, at least without the cross of the New Testament world. We’ll take the cross as an ornament and a decoration but not as the instrument of death and suffering that it is. For today I’ll close with Luther’s observation regarding the rejection of the cross by a theology of glory. Luther says:

This is clear: He who does not know Christ does not know God hidden in suffering. Therefore he prefers works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly, and, in general, good to evil. These are the people whom the apostle calls “enemies of the cross of Christ” [Phil. 3:18], for they hate the cross and suffering and love works and the glory of works. Thus they call the good of the cross evil and the evil of a deed good. God can be found only in suffering and the cross, as has already been said. Therefore the friends of the cross say that the cross is good and works are evil, for through the cross works are destroyed and the old Adam, who is especially edified by works, is crucified. It is impossible for a person not to be puffed up by his good works unless he has first been deflated and destroyed by suffering and evil until he knows that he is worthless and that his works are not his but God’s.                    (Thesis 21)

 

 

 

Reflection on Lent

Today is Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of Lent. It seems for all it’s faults, flaws, and many unbiblical aspects the Roman Catholic liturgical impulse has one advantage over the complete indifference to such matters of of liturgy in popular evangelicalism. The advantage is that while most professing believers can go through the year(with the exception of Christmas and Easter) without really pondering the life of Christ, without considering the obedience of Christ which now stands as our righteousness those who hold to a liturgy are confronted with those realities whether they accept them or not.

Today many will begin their Lenten season committing to fast from many different things, in order to remember Christ’s temptation in the wilderness. It seems on the surface of it an exercise in missing the point. The point of the New Testament writers in recording the temptation of Christ is not to call us to make vows or to call us fast (fasting is a good thing but it’s not the point of Christ’s temptation). The point is that Christ is the new Adam, that where our first father Adam was tempted and fell Christ was tempted and crushed the head of the serpent.

Christ was not without a special kind of food in the wilderness. In John 4:34, Christ states that his food is to to do the will who sent him. In his temptation Christ responded to the temptation to turn stones to bread by quoting Scripture, and saying “Man shall not live by bread alone but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Where Adam and Eve doubted and disobeyed the word of God, Christ treasured, obeyed, and feasted upon the word of God. What if rather then merely fasting from some aspect of life we in the midst of our temptations treasured, obeyed, and feasted on God’s word? That would indeed bring about true change.

That we need liturgical calendars to remind us of Christ’s life and work is saddening because this is the lifeblood the very impetus of the Christian life. If we only reflect upon these great truths once a season we rob ourselves of a chance to be encouraged and strengthened by the reminder of what Christ has done for us.

Visions of heaven and the theology of glory

If one were to look at the best selling books among professed Christians over the past decade, they would see one theme repeated in many of the books and that is visions of heaven. What are we to make of these accounts that have turned their authors into celebrities and spawned multimillion dollar movie deals. Whether our natural tendency is to be critical or accepting our natural tendency must be tempered by biblical testimony. To address these we will answer the following questions, are these works authoritative, are they necessary, do they contribute or detract from the truth of the Bible.

The first question when confronted with something like this is, what authority, if any, does it have. We as Christians are people of the Book. All of these authors share in the fact that they profess to be sharing from personal experience. Personal experience is a good thing, the truths of Christianity are meant to be experienced in the life of a believer. However experience does not define truth or reality. Peter an eyewitness to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ gives us a grid from which to base our understanding of authority in regards to revelation and experience. In 2 Peter 1:16-20 he gives testimony to his experience of being an eyewitness to the transfiguration of Christ. . He says that he was an eyewitness and heard  the voice, “borne from heaven.” What Peter says next is even more remarkable, “And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention to as to a lamp shining in  a dark place…knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit( 2 Peter 1:19-21.)” In the Christian life Scripture is to have authority, from it we are to interpret our experience and not the other way around. Given the nature of the nature of these so-called eyewitness experiences of heaven, we cannot give to them the authority we give to the Bible.

Do we need eyewitness testimony of heaven to win the world to the gospel? Another way to ask that question would be to ask, is the Bible enough? In Luke 16 Jesus tells the story of two men,a rich man whose name was never recorder and the other Lazarus a poor man. After being denied his initial request for comfort the rich man makes another request. He asks of  Abraham in regards to Lazarus, “‘Then I beg you , father, to send him to my father’s house- for I have five brothers- so that he can warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should be raised from the dead (Luke 16:27-31.)'”  If they won’t hear the Scriptures, they won’t be convinced by a resurrection. What is truly incredible about this, is that the one telling the story is the one who would be raised from the dead. What Jesus is in effect saying is that if people will not be convinced by the clear and authoritative word of God then they won’t be convinced at all. We have more then Moses and the Prophets, we also have the Gospels and Epistles the full story divinely inspired. If we are to take Jesus seriously in recounting this story we must acknowledge we have no need for a cottage industry based on heavenly tours, we have the Scriptures and they are enough. According to the testimony of Scripture these are unnecessary.

The Bible tells us of one man who who went to heaven and shared his experience. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:3-4, “And I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven- whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise- whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows- and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.” It was not lawful for this man, the apostle Paul to bear witness to the thing he saw and heard in heaven. Yet many authors on the bestseller list who have made their fortunes would have us believe that God has granted them an exception. What these authors do is quite clever, they seek to do away with the biblical nature of the Christian hope in this present age. Hebrews 11:1-3 states, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” If these account are true they erode away at the very nature of biblical faith and hope.

What these authors are doing, what many so-called Christian leaders are doing is not novel. What they put forward is really in fact a theology of glory. Martin Luther in 1518 painted a picture of what a theology of glory in the Heidelberg Disputation. In closing I would like you to consider these two statements from the Disputation, next week we will delve into a theology of the cross:

21. A theology of glory calls evil good and good evil.

This is clear: He who does not know Christ does not know God hidden in suffering. Therefore he prefers ,works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly, and, in general, good to evil. These are the people whom the apostle calls »enemies of the cross ofChrist« (Phil. 3:18), for they hate the cross and suffering and love works and the glory of works. Thus they call the good of the cross evil and the evil of a deed good. God can be found only in suffering and the cross, as has already been said Therefore the friends of the cross say that the cross is good and works are evil, for through the cross works are dethroned and the »oldAdam«, who is especially edified by works, is crucified. It is impossible for a person not to be puffed up by his »good works« unless he has first been deflated and destroyed by suffering and evil until he knows that he is worthless and that his works are not his but God’s

22. That wisdom which sees the invisible things of God in works as perceived by man is completely puffed up, blinded, and hardened
.

This has already been said. Because men do not know the cross and hate it, they necessarily love the opposite, namely, wisdom, glory, power, and so on. Therefore they become increasingly blinded and hardened by such love, for desire cannot be satisfied by the acquisition of those things which it desires. Just as the love of money grows in proportion to the increase of the money itself, so the dropsy of the soul becomes thirstier the more it drinks, as the poet says: »The more water they drink, the more they thirst for it.« The same thought is expressed in Eccles. 1:8: »The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.« This holds true of all desires

.Thus also the desire for knowledge is not satisfied by the acquisition of wisdom but is stimulated that much more. Likewise the desire for glory is not satisfied by the acquisition of glory, nor is the desire to rule satisfied by power and authority, nor is the desire for praise satisfied by praise, and so on, as Christ shows in John 4:13, where he says, »Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again.«The remedy for curing desire does not lie in satisfying it, but in extinguishing it. In other words, he who wishes to become wise does not seek wisdom by progressing toward it but becomes a fool by retrogressing into seeking »folly«. Likewise he who wishes to have much power, honor, pleasure, satisfaction in all things must flee rather than seek power, honor, pleasure, and satisfaction in all things. This is the wisdom which is folly to the world.