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July 2007

July 31, 2007

As you know, Tuesday is the day I add new reviews to Discerning Reader. This week we have five reviews for you, four of which were written by me. The fifth is written by a new Discerning Reader reviewer, James Anderson. James has a review of Only One Way?, a book edited by Richard Phillips. He writes, “for those of us who remain undaunted by such cultural pressures, this book offers an invigorating celebration of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and the biblical message of salvation through Christ alone.”

Two of the books I review this week are on the New York Times list of bestsellers. The God Delusion is Richard Dawkins’s desperate attempt to prove that God is nothing but a ridiculous and dangerous delusion. Of course I feel he failed in his attempt to show this. The other bestseller, Save Me From Myself is Brian “Head” Welch’s story of “How I Found God, Quit Korn, Kicked Drugs, and Lived to Tell My Story.” Welch was a founding member of the band Korn but came to Christ and has now written his story.

I also review Wendy Shalit’s book Girls Gone Mild where Shalit, a conservative Jewish writer, shows how “Young Women Reclaim Self-Respect and Find It’s Not Bad to Be Good.” It is a counter-cultural book that says what many Christians have been saying all along—that women were created to be women. And finally, I have a review of R.C. Sproul’s wonderful new book The Truth of the Cross. It is R.C. Sproul at his best and is well worth reading (and, I suspect, will be worth reading multiple times).

Next week I’ll have a review of The Dawkins Delusion, Alister McGrath’s response to The God Delusion and will also review Francis Collins’s The Language of God, his attempt to reconcile science (and Darwinism, in particular) with faith. Purely coincidentally, the book is endorsed by Alister McGrath. And I suppose we’ll see what other books the review team reviews between now and then. Stay tuned!

July 31, 2007

R.C. Sproul - The Truth of the CrossBefore I started into the text of The Truth of the Cross I read the three endorsements that came with it, one by Thomas Schreiner, one by Scott Clark and one by Bruce Waltke. It was Waltke’s that caught my eye when he said, “The Truth of the Cross is the best book on the cross I have read.” A man of Waltke’s age, Christian maturity and status must have read more than a few books on the cross, making this no little statement. Having read the book, I know it was no exaggeration. The best book on the cross I’ve ever read is Frederick Leahy’s The Cross He Bore, a book I’d consider a must-read for any Christian. Could this one be as good, as beautiful as that?

July 31, 2007

Tuesday July 31, 2007

Film: A new movie, “The Ten,” releases this Friday and is an attempt to spoof the Ten Commandments.

Prayer: Timmy Brister would like you to join him in praying for Dr. Tom Nettles. “Dr. Nettles developed pneumonia shortly after the Spring semester ended. As he began to get over the pneumonia, ulcers were found on his vocal chords which has severely affected his ability to speak…”

Liveblogging: This week is the Baptist History Celebration in Charleston and Kim Davidson will be blogging it.

Jesus: Joe Carter disagrees with John Piper on what color Jesus should be.

July 30, 2007

I was poking around a little bit today and found what I consider to be just a great deal. I’m posting for no other reason than to tell you that this represents what I’m sure you’ll agree is the best $4.03 you’ll ever spend. It’s one of my all-time favorites and a book worth reading at least once per year.

If you disagree and are absolutely convinced that another item worth $4.03 would have been a better buy, well, tell me what it is because I don’t believe it’s possible.

That is all.

July 30, 2007

Theologians sometimes speak of the ordinary means of grace, a term that refers to the preaching of the Word, the sacraments (or ordinances, if you prefer, as most Baptists do) and prayer. These three means are to be the foundation of the church’s activity. They are simple measures and ones that can often be overlooked. We tend to encounter these means on a regular basis and for that reason these ordinary means of grace can really begin to feel, well, ordinary. Yet they are ordinary only in the frequency of their use and the fact that God provides them as the most common means by which He nurtures our faith.

In an article at the web site of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals Ligon Duncan writes about churches that find their primary call to ministry in these means. “Sometimes I am asked, ‘what exactly do you mean by ‘ordinary means of grace-based ministry?’ Good question. Let me repeat and elaborate. The ‘ordinary means of grace’ are ‘the Word, sacraments, and prayer.’ These are the ordinances given by God with which spiritual life is nurtured. By ordinances we mean spiritual instruments of grace and growth in grace appointed by God in the Bible. So, when we say ordinary means of grace-based ministry, we mean a ministry that focuses on doing the things God says are central to the spiritual health and growth of his people. Hence, the key things that the church can do in order to help people know God and grow in their knowledge of God are: (1) emphasize the public reading and preaching of the Word; (2) emphasize the confirming efficacy of the sacraments; and (3) emphasize a life of prayer, especially expressed corporately in the church.”

The Baptist Catechism (as printed by the Charleston Association in 1813—a Baptist-friendly adaptation of the Westminster Shorter Catechism) discusses the necessity and definition of these means, calling them the “outward means.”

Q. What does God require of us that we may escape his wrath and curse, due to us for sin?

A. To escape the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin, God requires of us faith in Jesus Christ, repentance unto life (Acts 20:21), with the diligent use of all the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption (Pr. 2:1-6, 8:33 to the end; Is. 55:2, 3).

Q. What are the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?

A. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are his ordinances, especially the word, baptism, the Lord’s supper, and prayer; all which means are made effectual to the elect for salvation (Mt. 28:19, 20; Acts 2:42, 46, 47).

According to Duncan, “Ordinary means of grace-based ministry believes that God means what he says in the Bible about the central importance of these public, outward instruments for spiritual life and growth.” These ordinary means may appear foolish to the world, but God chooses to use these to draw people to Himself and to strengthen people who have already experienced His saving grace.

Those of us who attend Grace Fellowship Church here in Toronto were privileged to experience each of those ordinary means of grace yesterday. In the morning service Paul, our pastor, preached from Colossians 2:13-14 in a sermon he titled “Dead and Debt-ridden: Made Alive and Forgiven!” He looked first at God’s Diagnosis of Men and taught that in our natural, fallen state we are dead and debt-ridden. He then showed from the text God’s Action to Save Men, teaching that God makes alive and that He forgives sin. It was, in short, a powerful, convicting presentation of the gospel in all its power and glory. I could tell, just from his demeanor and excitement in the pulpit, how much Paul enjoyed sharing this message with us. And God was pleased to work through his words. At the conclusion of the sermon we celebrated the Lord’s Supper, remembering together the body and blood of the Lord.

The church met again in the evening, this time to celebrate the baptism of four young men and women. Two of these people had been saved after growing up in the Roman Catholic tradition. The other two were the children of members of the church. We heard their testimonies about how God saved two of them primarily through the witness of their families and from the other two how they were saved by the witness of others. We saw the power and faithfulness of God in reaching His people through the witness of the Word. After they gave their testimonies we walked to a nearby pool and rejoiced together as they were baptized, publicly proclaiming their trust in Jesus Christ and their belief in His death and resurrection. Paul had the immense privilege of baptizing his daughter, rejoicing with her as she took this step of faith, showing that God had answered innumerable prayers on her behalf. As Paul raised Chloe from the water, she leaped into his arms in joy. I had to step outside to compose myself and couldn’t help but pray that God would allow me to soon witness the baptism of my own children. You may wish to read Paul’s poem written for this occasion.

After the baptisms we returned to the church and Paul again preached the gospel, primarily for the benefit of the friends and families of those who had been baptized. There were many unbelievers there to witness the baptisms and they heard the gospel preached briefly, but in power last night. After rejoicing together in song, the evening closed with a time of fellowship and celebration. It was a truly blessed day.

Yesterday we were able to participate in each of those ordinary means of grace. Is it any wonder, then, that I returned home last night both edified and refreshed? Is it any wonder that I found my faith stirred and my heart warmed with affection for my Savior?

The Catechism tells us how the Word is made effectual and how we are to attend to it.

Q. How is the word made effectual to salvation?

A. The Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation (Neh. 8:8; Acts 26:18; Ps. 19:8; Acts 20:32; Rom. 1: 15, 16, 10: 13, 14, 15, 16, 17; 15:4; 1 Cor. 14:24, 25; 1 Tim. 3:15, 16, 17; ).

Q. How is the word to be read and heard, that it may become effectual to salvation?

A. That the word may become effectual to salvation, we must attend thereunto with diligence (Pr. 8:34), preparation (1 Pet. 2:1, 2), and prayer (Ps. 119:18); receive it with faith and love (Heb. 4:2; 2 Thes. 2:10), lay it up in our hearts (Ps. 119:18), and practice it in our lives (Luke 8:15; James 1:25).

It tells us also how the ordinances serve to become effectual means of salvation.

Q. How do baptism and the Lords supper become effectual means of salvation?

A. Baptism and the Lords supper become effectual means of salvation, not for any virtue in them, or in him that administer them, but only by the blessing of Christ (1 Pet. 3:21; Mt. 3:11; 1 Cor. 3:6, 7), and the working of the Spirit in those that by faith receive them (1 Cor. 12:3; Mt. 28:19).

Yesterday we were able to heard the Word preached and were convicted of sin and built up in our knowledge of the One Who saves from sin. We were able to listen attentively and prayerfully as the Spirit did His work. We remembered the Lord in His supper and celebrated His work in the lives of others through baptism. He added His blessing to these ordinances. He brought much blessing through these ordinary means.

We live at a time where these ordinary means are increasingly falling out of favor. Preaching is kept short and light, public prayer is forgotten (except immediately preceding the offering) and the sacraments are often de-emphasized or kept hidden. Ligon Duncan speaks a warning. “These are the main ways God’s people grow. We are saved by grace through faith, faith alone in Christ alone. But the instruments, the tools of God’s grace to bring us to faith and grow us in grace are the Word, prayer and sacraments. Nothing else we do in the church’s program should detract from these central instruments of grace, and indeed every thing else we do should promote and coalesce with them.” And yet far too many churches allow other things to intrude into the life of the church.

It was just over a year ago that Aileen and I began to attend Grace Fellowship Church, evaluating whether it was a good fit for our family. I told her almost immediately that one of the things I liked most about the church was that it does not try to be sexy. This church does not allow whatever is the evangelical flavor of the day to detract from the church’s purpose. Ligon Duncan helped give me words to express this. I am privileged to attend an “ordinary means of grace-based church,” one that keeps the main thing the main thing. It is a church that sees the extraordinary power of the ordinary. And God is blessing this church, allowing it to be a powerful light in the midst of the great spiritual darkness of Toronto.

July 30, 2007

Monday July 30, 2007

Church: Trevin Wax discusses the phrase “personal relationship with Jesus” asks whether this phrase helps or hinders evangelism.

Culture: Peggy Noonan says that we live in an age of great wealth but of lousy manners. And I would tend to agree.

Homosexuality: Dr. Mohler’s most recent commentary is worth reading as he writes about the normalization of homosexuality and how this conflicts with man’s natural morality.

Du Jour: Lifehacker shares a good productivity tip, courtesy of Jerry Seinfeld.

July 29, 2007

Yesterday I read R.C. Sproul’s new book The Truth of the Cross. It’s just a short book, coming in at just 167 small pages, but as we’d expect from Sproul, does not waste a word. It’s a great little book and one that gave me a lot to think about. I wanted to share just one of those things today, primarily because after finishing the last chapter this morning I went to church and heard a powerful message just relaying the beauty of the gospel. The pastor’s message fit perfectly with Sproul’s book.

In the third chapter, where R.C. discusses the human condition, he uses three biblical concepts: debtors, enemies, and criminals. The Bible describes all of us in these terms. What Sproul did, that really helped this hit home for me, was show how it is always the Father who has been offended and the Son who intercedes. We have committed crimes against God and are, thus, justly termed criminals. The Father stands as Judge, passing the just sentence of death. But Christ stands between us and the Father, acting as substitute. Our sin puts as in debt to God so that we are debtors to Him. God is the creditor who demands repayment, but Christ stands in as surety. And sin puts us at enmity with God, making us His enemies. He has been violated by our sin, but Christ intercedes as mediator, opening the way between man and God.

Sproul breaks this down into the following simple table:

Sin As…ManGodChrist
DebtDebtorCreditorSurety
EnmityEnemyViolated OneMediator
CrimeCriminalJudgeSubstitute

He concludes this: “Christ, then, is the One Who made satisfaction. By His work on the cross, He satisfied the demands of God’s justice with regard to our debt, our state of enmity, and our crime. In light of the facts of God’s justice and our sinfulness, it is not difficult to see the absolute necessity of the atonement.”

What a great Savior.

July 28, 2007

I’ve been reading R.C. Sproul’s latest book, The Truth of the Cross. It’s just a small book but you know that if Sproul is writing about the atonement that it will be well worth reading. Just seven pages in he discusses visiting a bookstore in a local mall. He found shelves and counters full of books with the categories prominently marked: fiction, nonfiction, business, sports, children’s stories, and on and on. In the very back was a religion section which consisted of only four shelves, meaning it was one of the smallest segments in the entire store. The material was not what could be considered orthodox, classically Christian. Sproul wondered, “Why does this store sell fiction and self-improvement, but place no premium on the content of biblical truth as part of its program.”

The answer is obvious. “I realized the store wasn’t there as a ministry. It was there for business, to make a profit. So I assumed the reason there were no solid Christian books was that there weren’t a lot of people asking, “Where can I find a book that will teach me about the depths and the riches of the atonement of Christ?”

While it seems that Sproul was in a mainstream bookstore, the same is true of most Christian bookstores I’ve visited recently. The few good books are sequestered in shelves furthest from the door and furthest from the flow of the foot traffic. Books sharing good theology are “destination” books that people look for deliberately. The junk rates the prime shelf spots. This is simple supply and demand. Most people who visit the store are not interested in good books on matters of profound theology. Instead, they want easy answers, quick fixes, and secret keys to easy spiritual growth. And this is what the market gives them.

So I got to thinking, I wonder what the people in my local Christian bookstore would come up with if I went inside and asked, “Where can I find a book that will teach me about the depths and the riches of the atonement of Christ?” Or perhaps I could ask, “What book would you recommend to teach me about the depths and riches of the cross?” Unfortunately the bookstore wasn’t on my list of things to do today, but I’ll be going near there next week and am going to drop in to see what they say. Wouldn’t it be interesting if a bunch of us did the same, just stopping by a variety of Christian bookstores to see what they can offer?

So how about a few of us try it? We don’t need to go looking for a fight or seeking to embarrass anyone. I’d just be interested in knowing whether Christian bookstore owners (or employees) are equipped to answer this question and what they might recommend to a person who wants to understand the atonement and who wants to glory in the cross.

Does anyone want to give it a shot? If so, drop by your bookstore and post a comment here (or send me an email) with the results. I’m guessing the results will be interesting.