Contentment? Is it Possible?

Posted by on Aug 31, 2015 in Academic Work, Featured, The Gospel and the Christian Life

Contentment? Is it Possible?

cross_sunset.4.lrDiscontentment may be the greatest trap in our culture–greater than lust, greed, and even lying, because discontentment can lead to all these other sins. I have never met an individual who had an affair without first being discontent. I have never spoken with a drunkard, a gossiper, a liar, or an idolater of body or rest or recreation without them alluding to discontentment. And it feels like the entire world is colluding to stir discontentment within us. Every billboard, every commercial, every brochure tends to communicate, “You deserve more” and “You need more.”

Contentment is a slippery thing. As soon as we think we are content it wiggles away, due to something we see on television, some stray thought, or some small comment another person makes. Is contentment even possible?

Paul asserts that it is. In fact, he says that he has learned to be content in whatever situation (Philippians 4:11). He goes on to tell us the secret to contentment. He says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). He isn’t saying he can do all things in Christ as a kind of blanket statement. Paul doesn’t think he can fly, become Emperor of Rome, or create a rainbow in the sky. Too many yank this verse out of context. Rather, Paul is speaking about contentment and that in all circumstances he is able to be content in Christ who strengthens him. The is the secret! It is not ignoring circumstances, it is not rising above them, and it is not resigning one’s self to them–it is rather living in them in Christ.

Paul’s statement is an echo of an earlier statement in the book when he comments, “For to me to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21). How is this helpful? Because he knows that in Christ he has everything. And this allows him to be content. The Christian finds Christ to be sufficient. We are the richest and most secure people in the universe. So the storms may beat the walls of our lives and contentment can lie safe within. It isn’t touched, because it is wrapped up in Him, who is our All in all.

Name it Christian. And you have it in Christ. Whatever it is that you desire, the root of it is found in Christ. The boat you desire, what is it, but a desire for freedom and rest? Which is ultimately found in Christ (Matthew 11:28-30; Romans 8:2). That promotion? At its root it is simply security and respect (Psalm 62:6-8). Ultimately, these are found in Christ. Friendship? What a friend we have in Jesus. One who never abandons or forsakes (Deuteronomy 31:6; Matthew 28:20). Family? We have a older brother who leads the way (Hebrews 2:11). Who grants to us a Father, who ever loves us (Galatians 4:4-7). Justice? He is a Judge who forever upholds righteousness (2 Timothy 4:8). Comfort? We have a priest who forever intercedes (Hebrews 7:25). Wisdom? We have a prophet who always proclaims (Hebrews 3:3). A counselor who is ever ready with comfort (Matthew 11:28-30). A provider who ever supplies (Philippians 4:19). A Savior who pays the price for our sins (Hebrews 10:12). A Defender who will guard and keep us (Psalm 23).

If we desire love it is found in His spread arms on the cross (Romans 8; Ephesians 3). If we want hope it is found in his resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:19). If we seek peace it is found in his blood shed for us (Colossians 1:20). If we seek joy it is given in His Spirit (Galatians 5). Happiness, in knowing what awaits us (Revelation 21). Power, you will rule with Him forever (Revelation 3:20-21).

Are you hungry? He is the bread of life (John 6:3). Thirsty, He is the living water (John 7:37). Naked, he covers you with His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). Health, He is the Great Physician (Psalm 147:3). Wisdom, He is the fount (Colossians 2:3). Knowledge, He holds it in His hand (Colossians 2:3). Rest? He says come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give your rest (Matthew 11:28-30). Compassion, it flows from Him (James 5:11). Comfort, He never crushes a bruised reed (Isaiah 42:3). Riches? We are made co-heirs with Him (Galatians 3:29).

We can be content, because our life’s circumstances do not dictate to us. We live in Him. Christian contentment is based upon dependence not independence. Paul is no Stoic. He is not acting as though he is above his circumstances. As if they have no effect upon him. Rather, in the midst of the difficult circumstances, he is trusting in God, he is looking to Christ in whom He has all things. He is not independent, he is Christ-dependent. For me to live is Christ. It is not being self-satisfied, self-fulfilled. It is being Christ-satisfied. Christ-fulfilled.

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A Review of “God Dwells Among Us” by G.K. Beale and Mitchell Kim

Posted by on Aug 19, 2015 in Academic Work, Christian Living, Featured

A Review of “God Dwells Among Us” by G.K. Beale and Mitchell Kim

indexThe temple is undervalued by modern Protestants. We tend to look at it as the arcane location of ancient Israelite worship. In their short Biblical theological work, however, Beale and Kim give us a full picture of its value and indeed enduring presence. If that’s not enough to intrigue the average reader, consider this is a modified version of Beale’s much praised The Temple and the Mission of God. Beale and Kim make a complex and important Biblical theme accessible for lay readers in this short book.

God Dwells Among Us is twelve chapters that builds progressively across the storyline of Scripture, communicating the enduring presence of God via His ever-expanding temple. It begins by setting the foundation of the Garden of Eden as a temple itself. Without this base, the rest of the development doesn’t hold. But the author’s are anxious to ground the whole study of the temple in the very practical and urgent call to missions. They write:

Compelling conviction propels us through painful sacrifice. The goal of this book is to strengthen biblical conviction for sacrificial mission. When we are motivated to mission through occasional experiences or isolated Bible verses, the spring of such motivation can run dry in the face of costly challenges. Persevering mission demands full-orbed conviction that is borne out of careful and payerful study of God’s Word. Our conviction grows richer and stronger when grounded in God’s cosmic mission from Genesis to Revelation. (14-15)

The temple and the mission of God go together. The presence of God with His people is the driving force of the mission of God’s people, it is also the goal of God’s people. We desire to expand that temple presence of God over all the earth. That begins in Genesis in the Garden, where God walks and talks with man, and it proceeds from there to cover the face of the earth. This theme is picked up throughout the Bible and Beale and Kim want to not only show us that, but use it to motivate us to greater missionary works.

The authors demonstrate how this temple theme and recommissioning of the original “cultural mandate” given to Adam and Eve run across the major plot developments of the Bible. Noah is recommissioned after the flood, and after he builds an altar. Abraham is given this same commission. Israel too, and in each case we see the old commission given, and a new “temple” established. The author’s develops the theme beautifully and fill the pages of their text with Scriptural references, exegesis, and textual interactions. This is not just scholarly study, this is true Biblical exposition. It will aid the preacher well in his own study of the subject.

The value of the book for missions may be somewhat overstated. It, no doubt, presents its case well and the connection between the temple and the mission of God is evident. The chapters are based on Kim’s sermons and I am sure that his preaching was highly motivating. The references throughout to missionaries and their own stories are insightful, but the full impact of the relationship between temple and mission seems lacking. This is a phenomenal Biblical theological study and one with great pastoral benefit, especially for preaching. Its value as a missionary tool, however, might not be as great as other resources. Nonetheless, this is a wonderful book and I highly commend it.

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Weekly Roundup 8/10/2015-8/15/2015

Posted by on Aug 16, 2015 in Academic Work, Featured, Resources

Weekly Roundup 8/10/2015-8/15/2015

weekly roundupThis is our weekly roundup of posts for 8/10/2015-8/15/2015. If you have any feedback on how we can serve you our readers better, I would appreciate it.  Thank you for reading and allowing us to minister to you throughout this past week through these posts.

Monday 8/10/2015-

Ordinary: How to Turn the World Upside Down reviewed by Mike Boling http://servantsofgrace.org/ordinary-how-to-turn-the-world-upside-down-2/

The Hard Reality of Tribulation by Dave Jenkins http://servantsofgrace.org/the-hard-reality-of-tribulation/

Tuesday 8/11/2015-

He Made the Stars Also:  Messianic Reflections reviewed by Mike Boling http://servantsofgrace.org/he-made-the-stars-also-messianic-reflections/

Christ’s Promise of Peace by Dave Jenkins http://servantsofgrace.org/christs-promise-of-peace/

Wed 8/12/92015-

Two Great Truths to Remember in the Face of Tribulation by Dave Jenkins  http://servantsofgrace.org/two-great-truths-to-remember-in-the-face-of-tribulation/

Hebrews: An Anchor for the Soul reviewed by Mike Boling http://servantsofgrace.org/hebrews-an-anchor-for-the-soul/

Thursday 8/13/2015-

The Pastor’s Ministry Biblical Priorities For Faithful Shepherds reviewed by Dave Jenkins http://servantsofgrace.org/the-pastors-ministry-biblical-priorities-for-faithful-shepherds/

God Weighs the Heart by Mike Boling http://servantsofgrace.org/god-weighs-the-heart/

Friday 8/14/2015

The Biblical Cosmos: A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Weird and Wonderful World of the Bible reviewed by Mike Boling http://servantsofgrace.org/the-biblical-cosmos-a-pilgrims-guide-to-the-weird-and-wonderful-world-of-the-bible/

EL ROI: “God of Seeing” by Dave Jenkins http://servantsofgrace.org/el-roi-god-of-seeing/

Saturday 8/15/2015

Developing A Biblical Worldview Seeing Things God’s Way  reviewed by Dave Jenkins http://servantsofgrace.org/developing-a-biblical-worldview-seeing-things-gods-way-2/

Hallowed Be Thy Name by Mike Boling http://servantsofgrace.org/hallowed-be-thy-name/

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A Good Mentor Points Out the Cliffs

Posted by on Apr 7, 2015 in Academic Work

A Good Mentor Points Out the Cliffs

Over_Monument_Valley,_Navajo_NationFaithful theology has been likened to standing atop a mesa. A mesa, if you remember, is an isolated flat-topped hill with steep sides. There are many true things that one can affirm on the flat-top. But go too far in one direction and you’ll wind up plummeting off a cliff.

It’s not a perfect analogy, but it is helpful. The safest place (or perhaps I should say most true and faithful) is to be right in the center. Varying theologies tip-toe towards the cliffs but maintain orthodoxy.

But human nature is not such that we are drawn to the middle. Human nature, like a foolish lemming, wants to throw itself off a cliff. Given to ourselves we’ll take a truth and push it so far that we end up careening off the flat-top and into the jagged rocks below.

This is why we need mentors. We need people who have felt the pull of the plummet. We need those who have tasted the lustrous fruit and found it empty—men and women who know where the edge of the cliff is to be found.

John Newton was this to John Ryland, Jr. The latter, I believe, felt the pull of a Calvinism which got a bit close to the edge. A Calvinism which for some actually pushed them over the edge into the unorthodoxy of Hyper-Calvinism.

Ryland had been reading Solomon Stoddard and it looks as if he was drawn to his teaching. It sounded quite orthodox, but Newton looked through it as a pastor. Newton acknowledges that “some things he advances are worthy of attention” but cautioned Ryland that his teaching are “more likely to affright a soul from the Lord than to guide it to him”. (119)

Do you hear the warning? CLIFF AHEAD!

Newton went on to say this:

I think if Mr. Stoddard had been at Philippi, and the jailer had sprung trembling in to him (instead of Paul or Silas) with the same question he would have afforded him but cold comfort, and would have made him wait a few weeks or months to see how the prepartory work went on before he would have encouraged him to believe in Jesus. (Wise Counsel, 120)

Newton sees Ryland inching towards a cliff and he has the boldness to encourage him to run away. He saw in men like Stoddard (and many following him) a propensity to “confine the Holy Spirit to a system”.

He would rather Ryland, “read the Scripture and your own heart attentively” by doing so “you will have greatly the advantage of those who puzzle themselves by too closely copying the rules [you] find in other books”. (121)

I am a seminary student but not your traditional sort. I live about an hour and a half away and so I feel kind of like an outsider. I believe this disadvantages me on one hand, but gives me a leg up in another regard. I’m distanced enough to see some dangers.

We all need those like John Newton. Those who take the things we are learning and put them on the ground—those who help us see where the cliffs are. Good theology wrongly applied can lead you off a cliff just as quickly as bad theology.

Every believer needs someone like Newton to point out our inconsistency and to keep us from jumping off into unfaithfulness. Likewise, we should also be growing in our faith in such a way that we can be a Newton for someone else.

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Sanctification: Explorations in Theology and Practice

Posted by on Mar 19, 2015 in Academic Work

The doctrine of sanctification has a reputation as justification’s puny little brother. In reality, however, sanctification has a lot of theological and practical importance. Sanctification demonstrates this well. The collection of essays combined in this volume offer a stimulating look at the breadth and depth of the doctrine’s value.

The book’s twelve authors combine a host of backgrounds and perspectives to further the conversation on the topic of sanctification. It is a topic that is currently undergoing a renewed interest. Kapic points to the popular level discussion already happening. Some Reformed readers might think immediately of the debates between Tchividjian and DeYoung at TGC. This volume, however, has no interest in the popular level discussion. Instead they are seeking to broaden the discussion. The essays are definitely of an academic theological nature, readers looking for more on the popular level conversation will be likely be overwhelmed. Readers, however, seeking to glance at the immense depth and complexity of the doctrine of sanctification will not be disappointed.

The book is not a unified presentation on the doctrine. As Kapic says:

No attempt has been made to provide a unified perspective on sanctification here – we are not presenting some new school of thought or anything like that, as some of the subtle disagreements even within this volume indicate. (11)

Think of the volume as its subtitle suggests: explorations in theology and practice. The bulk of this collection grew out of the Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference and as such they are proposals, not fully formed and fleshed out theological compositions. Yet, several the essays offered incredibly insightful and thought provoking nuance to the doctrine of sanctification and its place in the church and Christian life.

The work can be broken down into three parts. Part one, “Sanctified By Grace Through Faith In Union With Christ”, consists of four diverse approaches to understanding the relationship between union with Christ, faith, and the agency of the Holy Spirit in sanctification. Bruce McCormack’s essay on Karl Barth and John Wesley was particularly interesting and insightful. Part two discusses “Human Agency And Sanctification’s Relationship To Ethics.” The three essays in this collection are unique and some of my favorite from whole volume, including the contributions by Michael Horton and Oliver O’Donovan. Part three rounds out the work with “Theological And Pastoral Meditations On Sanctification.” While the whole work is edited with an eye towards ecclesiology, this last section makes that interest particularly evident.

The book is definitely academic in nature, pulling together some the leading theologians within modern Reformed scholasticism. In that regard, some of the essays are more accessible than others. It is also largely confined to the views of Reformed theologians, but should be of interest to those of a wider theological background.

I enjoyed the book as a whole. It was hard to get through at times, and took multiple readings to understand certain essays. While I might not recommend it to the average church member, to the mature theologian attempting to wrestle with the more complex features of the doctrine of sanctification, this will be a thought-provoking resource.

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Worshipping with Calvin

Posted by on Mar 6, 2015 in Academic Work

Worshipping with Calvin

Johnson, Terry. Worshipping with Calvin: Recovering the History Ministry and Worship of Reformed Protestantism.  Evangelical Press: Grand Rapids, 2014.

There is significant talk these days of worship, but this talk generally centers on American pragmatism, a purpose/market-driven Worshipping With Calvin by Terry L. Johnsonapproach, and questions of socio-cultural preference.  But what if the “worship wars” were nothing more than a trivial dispute over preference? And what if all this talk about worship, whether the “gospel” songs of the 60’s or the praise music of the 90’s are better suited for public worship, were equally fit for the rubbish dump?  Terry Johnson blazes an accessible trail, for a popular audience, on this generally misunderstood issue of Christian worship. Johnson recognizes that that Christian theology is an integrated whole and that Christian worship flows from that theology. Worship reveals the state of our theology and practice. Historically, worship has also served a vital role in the defense of orthodoxy against heresy. This is especially the case for the Reformed branch of Christian worship.

“Don’t ever take a fence down until you know why it was put up.” Robert Frost

Worshipping with Calvin demands a concern for catholicity. The quote from Frost is pertinent to the reformation recovery of Christian worship. The reformation recovery of worship is not equivalent to the restorationist agenda. The church has had historic “fences” built up to state and defend orthodoxy, to mature the saints, to call the unconverted, etc. Instead, Reformation recovery meant the removal of medieval excess and a reordering or worship according to biblical principles. Quite the contrary to the restorationist, Reformed liturgists comb through Patristic and Reformation history, as well as through other Christian traditions, in order to maintain a greater unity. If we desire to amend historic Christian worship, then we need to look hard at why these extra-biblical practices were put into place. There is an irony at this point. Modern worship is rightly concerned to “reach” different groups, so it is often concerned with matters of cultural tastes, but this tendency may inadvertently destroy Christian unity. “Transculturality” is one of the great benefits of Reformed worship. Its music runs from the first centuries of Christianity and through what is best about the hymn movement in the 21st century.  In this way, Reformed worship is best situated to maintain Christian unity and a multi-ethnic atmosphere.

Strengths:  Johnson’s material on prayer was particularly good and I plan on referring to it again. His arguments for psalm singing were convincing. They were strengthened by his not taking an exclusive psalm singing position. Also, Johnson admirably demonstrated the order and simplicity of reformed worship.

Weaknesses:  Johnson’s critique of modern worship shows up too frequently. While he offers many keen insights, the constant critique detracts from his overall goal.  It would have been more beneficial to his project if he had used that space for a robustly biblical defense of reformed worship, and maybe some interaction with those otherwise reformed that Johnson takes issue with in several places. Additionally, I had expected to see more of Calvin on worship in this volume. Perhaps even an analysis of Calvin on each of the many vital points that Johnson addresses in this volume. Finally, while I found the discussion of the Lord’s Supper to be helpful, Johnson’s defense of Infant baptism leaves much to be desired.

One final word. Johnson quickly dismisses cultural contextualization. Reformed worship needs to take ethnodoxology seriously. The elements of Reformed worship ought to be present in all worship in all places.  This does not mean, as Johnson seems to understand it, that Reformed worship can be air dropped anywhere around the world with little thought to the receiving culture. Johnson is right in his criticism but I wonder if there is not more to say on this topic. His treatment of emotion in worship also leaves much to be desired. While order is to be prized, Johnson makes emotion seem like adiaphora…take it or leave it. Aside from this final point, it is easy to recommend this volume on reformed worship.

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