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September 2007

September 21, 2007
Friday September 21, 2007 Blog Appraisals
Timmy Brister has a good (if subjective) word to say about appraising blogs.
The Qur’an
The Pulpit blog considers the Qur’an and its source.
The Soaring Loonie
Just five years ago a Canadian dollar was worth only 60% of a US dollar. Today they are at par. Is Canada’s dollar climbing…or is the American dollar falling?
Books in Prison
Doug Groothuis mentions a Prison Fellowship article about religious books being banned from prisons.
September 20, 2007

As you know, I am, along with a group of readers, attempting to work my way through some great Christian classics. Today we have arrived at the third chapter of J.C. Ryle’s Holiness. You can read more about this effort here: Reading the Classics Together. Even if you are not participating, please keep reading. I’m sure there will be something here to benefit you. Four weeks ago we began our eight-week study of this book by looking at the Introduction to the book, and then progressed to the first chapter which dealt with Sin and then the second chapter that dealt with Sanctification. This week we move on to the third chapter, the subject of which is Holiness.

Summary

The chapter begins with a simple but profound question. In previous chapters we’ve learned about sin and sanctification and on that basis and reflecting on Hebrews 12:14 (“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”) Ryle now asks, “Are we holy? Shall we see the Lord?” He begins to move holiness from the realm of theology to the realm of personal application. “In this hurrying, bustling world, let us stand still for a few minutes and consider the matter of holiness.”

As with all of these chapters, Ryle follows a clear outline. There are three sections: The Nature of True Holiness, The Importance of Practical Holiness and Application.

  1. The Nature of True Practical Holiness
    1. Holiness is the habit of being of one mind with God
    2. Holiness endeavors to shun every known sin and to keep every known commandment
    3. Holiness strives to follow the example of Christ
    4. Holiness cultivates the passive graces of meekness, longsuffering, gentleness, patience, kindness, and self-control
    5. Holiness pursues temperance and self-denial
    6. Holiness practices love and brotherly kindness
    7. Holiness practices mercy and benevolence towards others
    8. Holiness is exemplified in purity of heart
    9. Holiness follows after the fear of God
    10. Holiness follows after humility
    11. Holiness follows after faithfulness in the duties of life
    12. Holiness follows after spiritual mindedness
  2. Importance of Practical Holiness
    1. God commands it in Scripture
    2. Holiness is the purpose for which Christ came into the world
    3. Holiness is the only sound evidence of saving faith
    4. Holiness is the only evidence of love for Christ
    5. Holiness is the only sound evidence of being sons of God
    6. Holiness is most likely way to contribute to the good of others
    7. Holiness produces present comfort
    8. Holiness prepares us for heaven
    9. Application
  3. A Word of Advice – If you want to be holy…
    1. Begin with Christ
    2. Go to Christ
    3. Abide in Christ

Discussion

This chapter offered a lot of content and gave me a lot to think about. I find the chapters in this book are just long enough that I can begin to have trouble adequately digesting them. If they were much longer I think I’d have to break them into chunks that are more easily digestible. The combination of the density and the length can make for tough going!

After discussing the nature of practical holiness, Ryle, always the pastor, pauses to ensure the reader knows that holiness does not shut out the presence on indwelling sin. Holiness is our goal and our motivation, but it is a goal we can never fully attain in this life. I was encouraged to read “some men’s graces are in the blade, some in the ear, and some are like full corn in the ear.” It is good to see all holiness in a continuum where the most godly men are on the same inclined plane as even the newest Christian—they are just further along the slope. Ryle provided this metaphor in the introduction and I’m glad that he paused here to ensure the reader does not become overly discouraged by his lack of holiness. While I appreciated that encouragement, I also appreciated the challenge that “it is the excellence of a holy man that he is not at peace with indwelling sin, as others are. He hates it, mourns over it, and longs to be free from its company.” A mark of holiness is the desire to attain more holiness and to put sin to death. Though we know that we will never be entirely free from sin in this life, at the same time we strive towards that impossible goal, seeking to join with the Spirit in destroying sin’s power over us. Encouragement and challenge side-by-side are a powerful force for change. I need to remember this.

Shortly after this, Ryle says that holiness is the only sound evidence that we are children of God. I think every parent has moments of shock or incredulity as we see our children begin to mimic our words, our habits, our priorities. The other day my son was talking on the phone while pacing in circles around the house. As he spoke to his grandmother he walked from the kitchen, through the dining room and living room, up the hall and back into the kitchen in endless circles. Aileen laughed, knowing that he has somehow inherited this habit from me. His habit is evidence that he is a member of this family—that he is my son. As Ryle says, “children in this world world are generally like their parents.” The degree may vary from person-to-person, but it is rare that there is no kind of family likeness. This is as true of the family of God. If God is our Father, we must begin to imitate Him and to resemble Him. “We must show by our lives the family we belong to.”

A third thing that stood out to me was a simple one and one I should have thought of long ago, I think. Ryle asks, “Do you think you feel the importance of holiness as much as you should?” He then says “how apt we are to overlook the doctrine of growth in grace, and that we do not sufficiently consider how very far a person may go in a profession of religion, and yet have no grace, and be dead in God’s sight after all.” He mentions Judas and says, “When the Lord warned them that one would betray Him, no one said, ‘Is it Judas?’” And that is exactly the case, isn’t it? Not one of the disciples stood up and said, “It’s going to be Judas! I haven’t seen the evidence of holiness in his life! It must be him!” No, Judas seemed to fit in quite well even though he was never saved. While it may be that he did a very good job of playing the part, it seems more likely that the disciples simply were not thinking in these categories and were not looking for evidence of holiness in their own lives or in the loves of each other.

So this walk I’m putting the book down knowing that without holiness I cannot see the Lord and am seeking to be deliberate about evidences of holiness in my life. I need to pause often to ask, “Am I holy?” And at the same time I need to seek evidence of holiness in the lives of other Christians, encouraging them were I see this, and perhaps lovingly exhorting them where I do not.

Next Time

We’ll continue the book next Thursday (September 27) with the fourth chapter (“The Fight”). If you are interested in joining in, please do. There is still time to purchase the book or to read it online. See this discussion (Read the Classics Together - Holiness) for information.

Your Turn

And now it’s your turn. I am interested in hearing what you took away from this chapter. Feel free to post comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Don’t feel that you need to say anything shocking or profound. Just share what stirred your heart or gave you pause or confused you.

A friend sent along some study questions he once prepared while leading some men in his church through this book and this question stood out to me. It’s worth thinking about and perhaps someone would like to take a stab at an answer: “If holiness is so great, not equal in every man, and, to some degree, contingent on our own works, why then does it produce such a deep humility rather than encourage pride?”

September 20, 2007
Thursday September 20, 2007 Paul Needs a New Church
Paul, my pastor, says he needs a new church…
Dying with Debt
Jim Elliff says, “I’ve been troubled by the debt load that many believers are currently experiencing. Things are not getting any better overall, and many are suffering from over-extension. Here is some simple advice I hope will provide impetus for change in many families.”
Disaster Proof Your Ministry
Don Whitney will conduct this session at the conclusion of Omaha Bible Church’s annual conference.
September 19, 2007

Yesterday I received a question from a reader of this site. The question was simple: “Is Scripture study required of Christians? Is it actually discussed in the Bible?” As I wrote an answer I felt that it might be valuable to think it through carefully and even to share the answer.

I’ll be the first to admit that my knowledge of Scripture is far less than encyclopedic. However, I am quite sure that if you were to read the Bible cover-to-cover you would not find a direct command from God saying “Thou shalt read the Bible daily.” However, as we will soon see, neither would He need to give Christians such a command.

When I think about this question I am led back to the question of assurance of salvation—whether or not a Christian can be certain that he is saved. I think I am led this way because the Bible is so central, so integral to the Christian life, that to feel no love for it, no desire to study it, must be a sign of spiritual malaise. I would certainly never say that a person who does not want to study the Bible or who does not enjoy studying the Bible is not a Christian. But I would venture to say that the Christian life is so dependent upon Scripture that a person who has no regard for the Bible and who shows little interest in it would have good reason to seriously consider his salvation. Such a person would do well to examine his soul to see if he really has come to know the Lord.

Let’s look to just a few reasons why we, as Christians, should desire to know and study the Bible.

The first reason is that God draws an undeniable link between our knowledge of the Bible and our ability to live in the way He desires we live. In the book 1 John the apostle writes, “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:3-5). How are we to know how Christ walked and how are we to imitate Him if we do not study the record of His life? How are we to be obedient to Him but by studying the rule He has given to direct us? The Bible is the primary means God uses to teach us about Himself and to challenge us by the Holy Spirit. “And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual” (1 Corinthians 2:13). So to be people who are obedient to God and who do His will, we must first know His will as given to us in the Bible.

The second reason is that God tells us that our desire to learn about the Bible and its doctrine is a sign of spiritual health. In 1 John 4:6 we read, “We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” Those who are truly saved will long to be taught the Bible by skilled teachers and by the spiritual authorities God has placed in their lives. They will long to know the Word of God.

The third reason is that the Bible sets us free to glorify and enjoy God. “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). The truth, as we learn it in the Bible, gives us freedom to honor God through our lives. It sets us free from legalistic attempts to please God and frees us from our false views of God. It sets us free to know God as He is and to worship Him as He is.

In the face of this testimony, knowing that the Bible is so central to the Christian life, does God need to command us to study it and treasure it? No! Christians should be drawn to the Bible the way a baby is drawn to his mother’s milk. It is the Bible that feeds us, that nourishes us, and that equips us as saints that bring glory and honor to God. As Simon Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!” When we wish to live in a way that pleases God, we must turn to Him and He has revealed Himself in the Bible. A spiritually healthy Christian will read the Bible and will want to read the Bible.

Now I’d like to make a rather practical observation. Desiring to know and to study the Bible does not necessarily mean that we will always be overflowing with enthusiasm to do so. When we say that we desire to study the Bible we can mean two things. We can mean that we spring out of bed in the morning eager to rush to a comfortable chair and spend some time drinking in the Word of God. Though I think all Christians long to be like this, the sad fact is that very few are. However, even if we do not have an overflowing passion of this nature, we can still desire to read the Bible in a less passionate (but no less sincere) way, knowing that the Word feeds us, that it tends to our souls, and that we would be remiss to ignore times of Bible study. Even on days when our hearts are not pounding with excitement as we turn to our Scripture reading, we can still desire to read the Bible.

My encouragement is not to wait until your heart longs for nothing more than to study the Bible before you open the cover of the Book. Rather, commit today to beginning to take time every day to read it. Ask God to give you the discipline to do so. Commit to spending even just a few minutes reading its words and a few minutes more to seek ways you can apply it to your heart. God will speak to you through His Word and show you the infinite, eternal value of studying the Bible.

September 19, 2007
Wednesday September 19, 2007 Baptism, Church Membership, and Graduation
This blog has an interesting story told in a gracious way showing how the relationship is between baptism and church membership. (HT: Thabiti)
Weird Story of the Day
A married couple who didn’t realise they were chatting each other up on the internet are divorcing.
Transracial Adoption and the Gospel
Dan Cruver has a great interview with Thabiti Anyabwile. They discuss transracial adoption. (HT:JT)
The New Normal
A fascinating article in the Ottawa Citizen talks about how births involving medical intervention are the new but unnecessary normal.
September 18, 2007

Brian McLaren shares two gospels, one new and one old.

Those of us who have been keeping a wary eye on the Emerging Church know that to understand the movement we need to understand Brian McLaren. Though it is not quite fair to label him the movement’s leader, he certainly functions as its elder statesman and his writing seems to serve as a barometer for the movement. But anyone who has read his books will know just how difficult it is to pin down what he really believes. So often he is deliberately vague and mischievous and opaque, making suggestions but stopping short of actually saying, “This is what I believe.”

It was with some interest, then, that I read his understanding of “two views of Jesus’ good news” in a pre-release copy of his upcoming book Everything Must Change. In a chapter entitled “How Much More Ironic,” he lays out the gospel as he understands it, set against the gospel as traditionally understood by Protestants. In an endnote he defines this just a little bit further to say it represents a Calvinistic, evangelical Protestant, understanding of the good news.

So here, under four headings, is McLaren’s portrayal of what he calls the “conventional view” of Jesus’ good news:

The Human Situation: What is the Story We Find Ourselves In? God created the world as perfect, but because our primal ancestors, Adam and Eve, did not maintain the absolute perfection demanded by God, god has irrevocably determined that the entire universe and all it contains will be destroyed, and the souls of all human beings—expect for those specifically exempted—will be forever punished for their imperfection in hell.

Basic Questions: What Questions Did Jesus Come to Answer? Since everyone is doomed to hell, Jesus seeks to answer one or both of these questions: “How can individuals be saved from eternal punishment in hell and instead go to heaven after they die?” “How can God help individuals be happy and successful until they die?”

Jesus’ Message: How did Jesus Respond to the Crisis? Jesus says in essence, “If you want to be among those specifically qualified to escape being forever punished for your sins in hell, you must repent of your individual sins and believe that my Father punished me on the cross so he won’t have to punish you in hell. Only if you believe this will you go to heaven when the earth is destroyed and everyone else is banished to hell.” This is the good news.

Purpose of Jesus: Why is Jesus Important? Jesus came to solve the problem of “original sin,” meaning that he helps qualified individuals not to be sent to hell for their sin or imperfection. In a sense, Jesus saves these people from God, or more specifically, from the righteous wrath of God which sinful human beings deserve because they have not perfectly fulfilled God’s just expectations, expressed in God’s moral laws. This escape from punishment is not something they earn or achieve, but rather a free gift they receive as an expression of God’s grace and love. Those who receive it enjoy a personal relationship with God and seek to serve and obey God, which produces a happier life on earth and more rewards in heaven.

And here, now, is the “emerging view” of the good news under those same four headings:

The Human Situation: What is the Story We Find Ourselves In? God created the world as good, but human beings—as individuals and as groups—have rebelled against God and filled the world with evil and injustice. God wants to save humanity and heal it from its sickness, but humanity is hopelessly lost and confused, like sheep without a shepherd, wandering farther and farther into lostness and danger. Left to themselves, human beings will spiral downward into sickness and evil.

Basic Questions: What Questions Did Jesus Come to Answer? Since the human race is in such desperate trouble, Jesus seeks to answer this question: “What must be done about the mess we’re in?” The mess refers both to the general human condition and its specific outworking among his contemporaries living under domination by the Roman Empire and confused and conflicted as to what they should do to be liberated.

Jesus’ Message: How did Jesus Respond to the Crisis? Jesus says, in essence, “I have been sent by God with this good news—that God loves humanity, even in its lostness and sin. God graciously invites everyone and anyone to turn from his or her current path and follow a new way. Trust me and become my disciple, and you will be transformed, and you will participate in the transformation of the world, which is possible, beginning right now.” This is the good news.

Purpose of Jesus: Why is Jesus Important? Jesus came to become the savior of the world, meaning he came to save the earth and all it contains from its ongoing destruction because of human evil. Through his life and teaching, through his suffering, death, and resurrection, he inserted into human history a seed of grace, truth, and hope that can never be defeated. This seed will, against all opposition and odds, prevail over the evil and injustice of humanity and lead to the world’s ongoing transformation into the world God dreams of. All who find in Jesus God’s truth and hope discover the privilege of participating in his ongoing work of personal and global transformation and liberation from evil and injustice. As part of his transforming community, they experience liberation from the fear of death and condemnation. This is not something they earn or achieve, but rather a free gift they receive as an expression of God’s grace and love.

Following his summary of the two views of the good news, McLaren says his readers will recognize that the conventional view is commonly described as “orthodoxy” while any departure from it is heresy. While he affirms that the conventional view has a lot going for it, he says “more and more of us agree that for all its value, it does not adequately situate Jesus in his original context, but rather frames him in the context of religious debates within Western Christianity, especially debates in the sixteenth century.”

Before turning to a discussion of six unintended negative consequences of the conventional view, he makes this statement about conventional theology. “The basic shape of the story is similar despite [denominational or traditional] differences in details: earth is doomed, and souls are eternally damned unless they are specifically and individually saved, and the purpose of Jesus was to provide a way for at least a few individuals to escape the eternal conscious torment of everlasting damnation. Supporters of the conventional view can justify it with many questions from the Bible, and in so doing they bring much of value to light. But many other passages of the Bible are marginalized in the conventional view, and it has proven to entail many unintended negative consequences.”

This book is an attempt to answer two overarching questions: What are the biggest problems in the world? and What does Jesus say about these global problems? Those who know McLaren from his previous books will not be surprised to learn that “Jesus in the conventional view has little or nothing to say regarding the world’s global crises.” Clearly, then, an alternative is needed—an alternative that will allow Jesus to speak to the crises in the world.

But if Jesus did not come to proclaim that He had come to reconcile sinful men to a sinless God through his substitutionary atonement, what then was the central message of Jesus? Well, I haven’t quite finished the book yet, but this seems to be the best summary so far: “When Jesus proclaimed his central message of the kingdom of God, he was proclaiming not an esoteric religious concept but an alternative empire: ‘Don’t let your lives be framed by the narratives and counternarratives of the Roman empire,’ he was saying, ‘but situate yourselves in another story … the good news that God is king and we can live in relation to God and God’s love rather than Caesar and Caesar’s power.’” Another summary of Jesus’ message reads like this: “The time has come! Rethink everything! A radically new kind of empire is available—the empire of God has arrived! Believe this good news, and defect from all human imperial narratives, counternarratives, dual narratives, and withdrawal narratives. Open your minds and hearts like children to see things freshly in this new way, follow me and my words, and enter this new way of living.” Jesus took that message to the cross, an instrument of torture and cruelty that He used “to expose the cruelty and injustice of those in power and instill hope and confidence in the oppressed.”

So, according to McLaren, Protestant theology has had it wrong all along. We’ve missed the message of Jesus by reading sixteenth century presuppositions into the Bible. We’ve read the Bible with faulty lenses and have arrived at a flawed and false view of Jesus.

It seems clear to me that Everything Must Change is another step down the steep path that leads farther and farther away from biblical orthodoxy. McLaren seems to be fully aware of the path he is taking and of the crowd he is taking with him. I fear for them all. It seems increasingly clear to me that the new kind of Christian is starting to resemble no kind of Christian at all…

September 18, 2007

It’s Tuesday today, and that means we have a new lot of reviews for you to read over at Discerning Reader. We’ve also got a fascinating interview with one of the authors whose work we have reviewed today. So read on!

To start, I’ve added a short review of Iain Murray’s The Life of John Murray. It is not an exhaustive biography of the great Westminster theologian, but it is a good one and is well worth adding to any library.

James Anderson has written two reviews this week, the first of Revelation and Reason, a collection of scholarly essays on Reformed presuppositional apologetics, the purpose of which is to explore how revelation (specifically, Scripture) informs and constrains our use of reason in defending the claims of Christianity.

James has also reviewed Putting Jesus in His Place, a book he says is “the most comprehensive, up-to-date, and readable defense of the deity of Christ available today.” He also shares a fascinating interview with J. Ed Komoszewski, one of the authors.

Mark Tubbs also offers two reviews, the first of Douglas Wilson’s The Serrated Edge: A Brief Defense of Biblical Satire and Trinitarian Skylarking and the second of John Piper’s devotional Pierced by the Word.

Finally, Scott Lamb provides a review of the ESV Children’s Bible, a Bible he says is “a complete ESV Bible that is truly put together in a child-friendly way to encourage reading and spiritual growth.”

September 18, 2007
Tuesday September 18, 2007 Messages on Heaven and Hell
A few days ago I posted a review of Edward Donnelly’s book on heaven and hell. The original messages the book was based on are available here (1997 and 1995).
Persecution in Azerbaijan
A reader sent along this story of a Baptist pastor imprisoned in Azerbaijan for holding “illegal religious meetings.”
Evangelicals and the Environment
The latest SaidatSouthern podcast features Dr. Gregg Allison talking about evangelicals and the environment.