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July 31, 2014

Today I am kicking off a brand new series of articles I am titling The Defenders. Through brief sketches of Christian leaders, I hope to draw attention to believers known for defending the church against specific theological challenges or false teachings. I will be focusing on modern times and have chosen to begin with James Montgomery Boice, a long-time defender of the doctrine of inerrancy.

Inerrancy

The Christian faith stands or falls on the Bible. It stands or falls on the trustworthiness of the Bible. It is no surprise, then, that the Bible has often been attacked at this very point. A long list of dissenters have maligned the Bible by insisting that it cannot be fully trusted, and asserting that errors have crept into it. The doctrine of inerrancy addresses the Bible’s trustworthiness.

Wayne Grudem defines the doctrine in this way: “The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact.” Said otherwise, “Inerrancy is the view that when all the facts become known, they will demonstrate that the Bible in its original autographs and correctly interpreted is entirely true and never false in all it affirms, whether that relates to doctrines or ethics or to the social, physical, or life sciences” (P. D. Feinberg). If it is true that the Bible is reliable and contains nothing contrary to fact, then it is worthy of our trust and able to guide us in matters pertaining to life and godliness.

It was this doctrine, and the attacks upon it, that drew the attention of James Montgomery Boice.

James Montgomery Boice

BoiceJames Montgomery Boice was the much-loved pastor of the historic Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia from 1968 until his death in 2000. A prolific author, he penned dozens of books and commentaries, including a massive and influential four-volume work on Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. His long pastoral ministry was unblemished and his congregants remember him as a kind and loving pastor. But outside that congregation he is remembered as a fierce defender of the doctrine of inerrancy.

In a stirring tribute to his friend and mentor, Richard Phillips says that Boice’s ministry can be roughly divided into three phases. The first of these phases lasted from the mid-1960’s to just around 1980, and it was here that Boice distinguished himself as a defender of the doctrine of inerrancy. Phillips explains:

These were the years when Boice was wrapping up the education he received in liberal institutions like Princeton Seminary and the University of Basel. In his John commentary, dating from these early years, one will frequently read Boice defending the Bible from the interpretations of liberals like Rudolf Bultmann. These were also the years when Boice was ordained in the liberal United Presbyterian Church, so that the context for his ministry was that of opposition to liberal attacks on the Bible. It is no surprise that Boice’s chief concern during these years was to defend the inerrancy and authority of Scripture, as seen in his leadership of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI).

The International Council on Biblical Inerrancy was founded in 1977 for the express purpose of defining and defending the doctrine of inerrancy. Boice, who that year would publish Does Inerrancy Matter?, was asked to serve as Chairman. The Council met in 1977 and determined they would write a book-length response to Jack Rogers’ Biblical Authority, an influential work championing neo-orthodoxy and denying inerrancy. Boice served as editor for that work and in it he warned “even among evangelicals, Christian doctrine and Christian living are moving progressively away from the biblical standard and from the classical teachings of the church.” In the fall of 1978 the ICBI held their first conference with nearly 300 Christian leaders in attendance. During that conference the Council met repeatedly and wrote what came to be known as The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

July 31, 2014

Here are some new Kindle deals: Jesus, the Only Way to God by John Piper ($0.99); Faithful to the End by Terry Wilder ($0.99); Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary ($4.99); Mere Apologetics by Alister McGrath ($4.99).

The Next Chapter for Christian Publishing - Here’s one person’s take on the future of Christian publishing.

Moving In and Moving On - A couple of key highlights from this one: “As cohabitation has grown more common, cohabiting couples have become less likely to transition into marriage.” And “Cohabitation seems to be moving toward being a form of dating with no implications about a couple’s odds of marrying.”

Welcome to the Nuclear Command Bunker - NPR was given a relatively rare look inside a nuclear command bunker. “At its heart, this is what nuclear deterrence comes down to: two officers, 60 feet underground. Working, watching movies, and waiting.”

The Use and Abuse of Video Church - Rick Phillips explains why you ought to be physically present in a church instead of watching it via video.

Wisdom Is Content and Experience - There is more to wisdom than just blurting out a phrase from the Bible.

Axiety and Depression - “Though I wouldn’t wish anxiety or depression on anyone, I am strangely thankful for the unique way this affliction has led me, time and again, back into the rest of God.”

He Wears a Medal of Honor - This is the story of Sammy Davis, who received the Medal of Honor many years ago.

Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. —Jaroslav Pelikan

Pelikan

July 30, 2014

We’ve got an Amish community not too far from here. It is the place to go when you need to stock up on produce, farm-grown foods, or heirloom-quality furniture. It is also known as the place to go if you really just need to see some Amish people doing what they do. And a lot of people like to do just that—to go and look, to go and gawk.

Even though we’ve got an extensive group nearby, we recently found ourselves in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, North America’s best-known Amish community. (Full disclosure: Our actual travel objective was Harrisburg and the overrated Civil War museum there, but every hotel in the city was completely full.) We did not stop on the road outside Amish farms to watch them do their work, and did not go on a bus tour, but we couldn’t help but see horses and buggies around town, and, of course, plenty of the distinctive Amish clothing.

As we headed north, back toward our home, I started to think about the Amish and why we find them so endlessly fascinating. Though they are small in numbers, everyone knows who they are and everyone knows at least a few of their unique customs; though so much of their religious practice appears insufferable, they are regarded as Christians who love and practice grace. They are the heroes of a million stories, the subject of a thousand documentaries. Why are they so fascinating? I have a few ideas.

The Amish challenge us. In a world where we are so completely dependent on our high-tech devices, the Amish somehow manage to survive without them, and even appear to thrive without them. Where we are convinced that newer is better and that we are only ever one innovation away from joy, the Amish seem plenty happy to do without. If you spend time around the Amish, or if you begin to learn about their ways, you necessarily find yourself asking questions like: Do I really need my smartphone? Are all of these devices really bringing happiness? What have I lost in all of this innovation? The Amish challenge so many of our deeply-held beliefs and assumptions.

We want to figure out the Amish. We are fascinated by the Amish because we so badly want to figure them out. Where they proclaim that they have great uniformity in their lives and laws, we see great contradictions. Their faith appears contradictory: They speak about the grace of Christ but live by law; they extend grace to those who harm them, but shun those who leave them; they rejoice in their salvation, but do not share Christ with others. Their laws appear contradictory: The men can have buttons, but the women must use straight pins; connecting to a phone network attaches them to the world, but connecting to a road network does not; they rely on doctors and lawyers, but will not allow their own children to be educated beyond eighth grade. When I see the Amish, with all their strengths and weaknesses, all their grace and legalism, I look for a key that unlocks it all. I look for knowledge that makes it all make sense.

The Amish recall a simpler time. Where life today is marked by endless complexity, the Amish are known for their quiet simplicity. As they go about their lives, they draw us to a simpler time. In some ways the Amish live in the best of both worlds—the world today and the world of centuries ago. They live their day-to-day lives in that simpler world, that quieter world, that slower world. But, when necessity dictates, and law permits, they take advantage of modern innovations. They use horse-drawn buggies to get to their worship services, but hire drivers to take them to the store. They have no electricity in their homes, but give birth and die while connected to modern medical equipment. Their simplicity attracts us. It draws us.

July 30, 2014

Here are some new Kindle deals: A Fistful of Heroes by John Pollock ($3.99); Taking the Bible At Its Word by Paul Wells ($3.99); Table Grace by Douglas Webster ($3.99); Preaching: The Art of Narrative Exposition by Calvin Miller ($1.99); Preaching With a Plan by Scott Gibson ($1.99).

The Parable of the Lawn Mower - Here’s a helpful little parable to help explain why we must preach the gospel rather than only attempting to display it.

The Gospel and the Shower Curtain Liner - Read this one for the great illustration of the shower curtain liner, and the idea of cleaning up ahead of the cleaner.

Two Questions - Kevin DeYoung has offers two questions that may just help your church’s ministry.

The Exclusivity of Treasure Pursuit - Paul Tripp distills it all the way down: “it’s spiritually impossible to pursue the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of self simultaneously.”

Books for Pastors - Westminster Books’ sales this week are geared toward pastors. There are lots of good titles there at very reasonable prices.

Am I in Trouble? - Here is some encouragement for those who haven’t opened their Bibles in too long.

The love language of all marriages is self-denial. —Burk Parsons

Parsons

July 29, 2014

Life is complicated. Life is full of responsibilities and opportunities, planned duties and serendipitous possibilities. There is so much we could do, but so little we can do. Many of us battle our whole lives to focus on those few, significant items that we should do must do, and yet so few of us ever feel like we are even nearly succeeding.

Help is here in the form of Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism. While it is not a perfect book, and while it benefits tremendously from adding a good dose of Christian thinking, it is one of the most helpful I’ve read on that constant battle to focus my time and energy on the right things.

McKeown believes in what he calls Essentialism and describes the basic value proposition in this way: “only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.” The Essentialist pursues fewer but better opportunities and is rigidly disciplined in rejecting the many to devote himself to the few. It is “not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done.”

The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default. Instead of making choices reactively, the Essentialist deliberately distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many, eliminates the nonessentials, and then removes obstacles so the essential things have clear, smooth passage. In other words, Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making execution of those things almost effortless.

Now that sounds good! That sounds like what we all want—a clear design to our lives that simplifies decision-making and amplifies each of the opportunities we pursue.

McKeown leads the reader to Essentialism in four parts:

  1. Essence. He begins by looking to the essence of Essentialism and the realities that make Essentialism a necessary but difficult practice today.
  2. Explore. Here he describes the way an Essentialist needs to think so he can pursue the highest possible contribution toward the best goals.
  3. Eliminate. Having determined the best goals, the Essentialist now needs to begin eliminating anything that will compete with the pursuit of those goals. “It’s not enough to simply determine which activities and efforts don’t make the highest possible contribution; you still have to actively eliminate those that do not.”
  4. Execute. And then comes the heart of it all—living in such a way that you now execute on those few goals, and continuing to follow the discipline of it.

McKeown promises his book “will teach you a method for being more efficient, productive, and effective in both personal and professional realms. It will teach you a systematic way to discern what is important, eliminate what is not, and make doing the essential as effortless as possible. In short, it will teach you how to apply the disciplined pursuit of less to every area of your life.”

And I think it can do that. It is chock-full of excellent insights and quoteable phrases. It is the kind of book you can use to implement systems in your life, or the kind of book you can plunder for its big and important ideas.

Yet the Christian reader will want to read it with some discernment. This is a book that benefits from an infusion of the biblical ethos. As the book reaches its end, McKeown expands Essentialism to all of life and here he stops quoting business gurus and begins quoting religious gurus; the last chapter is easily the weakest and one that can be skipped without any great loss.

July 29, 2014

Here are today’s Kindle deals: A Model of Christian Maturity by D.A. Carson ($2.99); Connected by Erin Davis ($4.99); Holman Quicksource Guide to the Dead Sea Scrolls by Craig Evans ($2.99); Redeeming Church Conflicts by Tara Barthel ($1.99); Holman Quicksource Guide to Christian Apologetics by Doug Powell ($2.99); Holman Quicksource Guide to Understaning Creation by Mark Whorton ($2.99); Which Bible Translation Should I Use? by Andreas Kostenberger ($3.99).

An Open Letter to the Caliph - Tim Keesee has penned an open letter that is worth reading. “You and your Caliphate are destined for failure. Of course, all empires, caliphates, and reigns of terror eventually come to an end, but something else is happening — another kind of failure in your command over the Islamic world.”

The New Face of Richard Norris - This long article about Richard Norris, who underwent a face transplant, is fascinating, and introduces some important ethical issues. (Note: the article is at the GQ site, but I’m linking to the printable page, so everything there should be family-friendly; at least it is as far as I can see.)

Making the Bible BeautifulBibliotheca is a massively successful Kickstarter project that attempts to make the Bible beautiful [again]. This matters, and here’s why.

Coffee Shops and Productivity - Here’s some guidance on when coffee shops may and may not help your productivity.

Cold Case Christianity - Cripplegate has a review of a book I really enjoyed (and recommend).

The whole life of man until he is converted to Christ is a ruinous labyrinth of wanderings. —John Calvin

Calvin

July 28, 2014

I saw it the other day. I saw that thing I want, that thing I am sure I need, that thing that holds the key to my happiness. With it I will be complete. Without it I will always be lacking.

And there it was, right before me. I saw it. I longed for it. I felt that longing, that desire, in my chest, or was it my stomach? Did my heart really skip a beat? There it was, so close, but it wasn’t mine. It was there, yet just out of reach.

In that very moment the thought flashed through my mind: If God really loved me, he would give it to me. God doesn’t love me enough to let me have it. And in the wake of the thought, a question: What can I do to make him love me enough? What can I do to make him love me enough to give it to me?

The insanity lasted all of a minute. Probably not even a minute. And then I knew. It’s not that God loves me too little to give it to me. He loves me too much. He loves me too much to give me that thing I am convinced I need. He loves me too much to give me something that will compete with him. He loves me too much to give me anything I may love more than I love him.

Whatever it is—an object, a person, a position, a recognition, an award—God expresses his love in withholding it from me. He knows me far better than I know myself. He knows what I need, and he knows what I don’t need. He knows what would soon step into that place he reserves for himself.

I can go my way content. I can go my way knowing that God has given all I need and withheld all I cannot handle. I am content with what God has given—it is for my good and his glory. I am content with what God has withheld—it, too, is for my good and his glory.

Crybaby image credit: Shutterstock

July 28, 2014

Here are some new Kindle deals for you: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit by Bruce Ware ($1.99); Engaging with the Holy Spirit by Graham Cole ($0.99); Walking in the Spirit by Kenneth Berding ($0.99); The Holy Spirit by Kevin DeYoung ($0.99); He Who Gives Live by Graham Cole ($2.99); Resolving Everyday Conflict by Ken Sande ($1.99); Worship Leaders, We Are Not Rock Stars by Stephen Miller ($3.99); How to Read the Bible in Changing Times by Mark Strauss ($1.99). (Also, today’s Gold Box deal is a tempting one: The Blu-ray extended editions of The Lord of the Rings for $37.99.)

The Loss of Pastoral Credibility in the Age of the Internet - “The Internet has introduced a new level of visibility to areas of our social life, exposing certain uncomfortable realities.” Alistair explains how the credibility of pastors is suffering as a result.

Build Character, Not Platform - There is a time for both, I guess, but I love Derwin Gray’s focus here: Worry less about building your platform, and focus more attention on character.

15 Reasons Why We Should Still Be Using Hymnals - You probably won’t agree with everything he says, but the article is well worth some reflection.

Unrequited Love - I found this interesting: Why Evangelicals feel great affection for Jews and why that affection is not reciprocated.

Preaching about Body Image - There’s something to be said for this: Pastors ought to preach about body image.

What peace can they have who are not at peace with God? —Matthew Henry

Henry