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April 2009

April 26, 2009

In his little book Fear Not!, an examination of death and the afterlife from a Christian perspective, Ligon Duncan writes about the horrors of hell. Having done so, he offers a final reflection on the ultimate difference between heaven and hell. And, though I’ve read extensively, I do not recall ever hearing someone express it quite like this. These are words that are worthy of some reflection. Though he has already discussed hell, there is one more thing he wishes to say.

*****

It is a surprising thing to note, because so often we speak of hell as a place where God is not. Let me, however, say something provocative. Hell is eternity in the presence of God without a mediator. Heaven is eternity in the presence of God, with a mediator. Hell is eternity in the presence of God, being fully conscious of the just, holy, righteous, good, kind, and loving Father’s disapproval of your rebellion and wickedness. Heaven, on the other hand, is dwelling in the conscious awareness of your holy and righteous Father, but doing so through a mediator who died in your place, the One who absorbed the fullness of the penalty of your sin. Heaven is eternity in the presence of God with the One who totally eradicated sin from your life, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Hell is eternity in the presence of God without a mediator. Heaven is eternity in the presence of God with a mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ.

April 25, 2009

Several months ago I was asked to submit an article to Tabletalk Magazine. The editors had read an blog entry I had written dealing with the subject of accountability and asked if I’d be willing to write a condensed version and submit it for publication. I was glad to do so and the result appeared in this month’s Tabletalk. You may have read a version of this article in the past but, if you care to read it again, you can find it now in a condensed and edited edition. It goes like this:

Admiral Lord Nelson once remarked that “every sailor is a bachelor when beyond Gibraltar.” This was a statement about anonymity, a rare concept even just a few short generations ago. Nelson knew that once his sailors moved beyond the bounds of the British Empire, beyond society’s systems of morality and accountability, they underwent a transformation. Every man became a bachelor and sought only and always his own pleasure. Those who have read biographies of John Newton will see there a vivid portrayal of a man who was a gentleman at home but who was vulgar and abusive while away. Given only a measure of anonymity he became a whole new man.

In days past, anonymity was both rare and difficult. People tended to live in close-knit communities where every face was familiar and every action visible to the community. Travel was rare and the majority of people lived a whole lifetime in the same small geographic area. Os Guinness remarks that in the past “those who did right and those who did not do wrong often acted as they did because they knew they were seen by others. Their morality was accountability through visibility.” While anonymity is certainly not a new phenomenon, the degree of anonymity we can and often do enjoy in our society is unparalleled in history.

We need accountability. Left to our own devices, we will soon devise or succumb to all kinds of evil. As Christians we know that we need other believers to hold us accountable to the standards of Scripture. Passages such as Ecclesiastes 4:12 remind us that “a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” The Bible tells us that “iron sharpens iron” (Prov. 27:17) and that we are to “stir up one another to love and good works…encouraging one another” (Heb. 10:24-25). Life is far too difficult and we are far too sinful to live in solitude. We need community. We need accountability. And God has anticipated our need by giving us the local church as the primary means of this accountability.

Keep Reading at Tabletalk

April 24, 2009

Free Stuff Fridays

Today is Friday and that means it is time for another Free Stuff Fridays. This week’s sponsor is Seeds Family Worship. “Seeds Family Worship was planted when worship leader, Jason Houser, was asked to write some songs to help kids remember the verses from his church’s summer Bible school. Jason began writing songs and singing them for the kids and families at church. The songs were well-crafted, catchy, and taken straight from scripture. Families liked them… a lot. From just a handful of songs, Seeds Family Worship was planted - providing God’s Word set to music for thousands of families all over the world. We are gladdened by stories of worship times at home, scripture memorized, and object lessons taught using Seeds songs. The fifth Seeds Family Worship album - The Power of Encouragement - has just released. In total, Seeds has grown to 58 portions of scripture set to music!”

Each of the albums features a selection of Scripture passages set to music. There is no word in any of the songs that is not directly drawn from the Bible. Like me, you may be a little suspicious of children’s music, tired of music that is substandard. But in this case, the Seeds music is very well done and, by all accounts, the children really enjoy it (I know my children do!).

Seeds Family Worship

Here is a YouTube clip of just one of the songs.

We have five complete sets to give away (meaning that each winner will receive a copy of all five albums). Interestingly, each album includes two CDs, one to keep and one to give to a friend (great idea!).

Rules: You may only enter the draw once. Simply fill out your name and email address to enter the draw. As soon as the winners have been chosen, all names and addresses will be immediately and permanently erased. Winners will be notified by email. The giveaway closes tonight at midnight.

April 24, 2009

Yesterday I posted the first part of an answer to the question many people have asked me (and the question I’ve, in turn, asked many other people: What Is The Gospel Coalition? In that article I answered a few of the what, where and why questions. Today I want to discuss how you and I can be involved in it.

Important to the ethos of The Gospel Coalition are the differences between an organization and a movement. The leadership of TGC wants it to be both. It is an organization in that it has leadership (through D.A. Carson, Tim Keller and the Council Members), in that it has charitable status, foundation documents and the like. The organization is important to provide structure and to provide a common vision. But primarily, TGC is (or its leaders hope it will become) a movement. Tim Keller says that a movement depends upon unity around a vision for the future that is carried on by those with shared beliefs. And he says that a movement depends on a level of grassroots spontaneity. There needs to be some control over the shared vision and belief and this, of course, is the job of the organization. But within that bit of structure comes great freedom and great ability for spontaneity.

The Gospel Coalition exists to create a network of like-minded believers who are committed to the gospel and are committed to working with other believers to further the gospel. One person compared TGC to a magnet that passes over iron filings in a box of sand, grabbing the filings and binding them together. Through networking, both online and offline, TGC hopes to find pockets of Christians who are committed to the gospel and to bring them together for that gospel, for missions, to change lives. Though such networking can happen through traditional means and undoubtedly will continue to happen through traditional means, TGC has launched a social media site, The Gospel Coalition Network, that they hope will serve as a means of bringing Christians together based on geography and common interest. If you are unfamiliar with the term “social media,” think of Facebook or MySpace or the like. It is software that fosters relationships and connections.

As networks grow, so too will opportunities for these like-minded Christians to work together in their regions or for their common interests. So as a network grows in the Greater Toronto Area (to use just one example), members, many of whom may never have met each other before finding one another through The Gospel Coalition Network, can begin to meet to discuss concerns common to Toronto or to inform one another of local events. They should be able to find many ways of working together to further the gospel. They may choose to begin a local chapter (explained below) to provide a more formal TGC presence in that area.

And so the best way for you to get a taste of The Gospel Coalition, and for you to get involved, is to begin to use that software. This software is absolutely free for anyone (men or women, pastors or laypersons, North American or European, etc). The TGC leadership is hoping that tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people will create accounts and begin to use it. As of this very moment there are 2874 people registered with many more registering every day.

There are four terms you should be familiar with as you begin to use the software and begin to get involved in TGC.

“Participants” need only fill out a few digital forms at which point they can join in the discussion. They do not have to agree with The Gospel Coalition; they do not have to be Christians. The “participants” level is for anyone wanting to engage in networking and in discussion of common themes with other people. These people can create an account and immediately begin participating in groups, discussions, and so on.

“Members” are asked to take a further step in the registration process: they are asked to read the Foundation Documents, all of which are available online—Preamble, Statement of Faith, and Theological Vision of Ministry—and signal their agreement with these documents, without mental reservation. Only members will be allowed to start new groups on the Network.

“Groups” are simply groupings of members and participants based around a common theme or common geography. Groups may be based around location (Greater Toronto Area), interest (Church History), occupation (Youth Pastors), church (First Baptist Church) and so on. Each Group has a leader who can moderate that group, determine who may be a part of it, and so on.

“Chapters” are regional centers for carrying on the work of The Gospel Coalition at local and regional levels. Already, for instance, TGC Bay Area (San Francisco) exists, and several other regional chapters are on the cusp of forming. TGC hopes and expects that such local leadership will be far more effective at the local level than a central Council can possibly be. For obvious reasons they insist that these local chapters share the vision and priorities enshrined in the Foundation Documents. They hope in due course to serve these local chapters with special web pages and the like.

Your sign-up page depends on your geographic location:

If you are interested in being involved in TGC, simply sign up and get involved. If you agree with the Foundation Documents, consider becoming a member. Find groups that interest you or, if no such group exists, create one. Find friends, find local interests, and join in the discussion. And then take the relationships offline and begin to get involved with other Christians in working together for the gospel in your region. This is not the entirety of what it means to participate in TGC, but it is the place to start.

In all of this talk about the Gospel Coalition Network, I do not want to neglect to mention all of the resources TGC offers through their web site. By visiting the thegospelcoalition.org you will find a large and fast-growing list of resources meant to serve both churches and individual Christians. You will find the theological journal themelios, information about the Christ on Campus Initiative, conference audio and video, interviews and much more. Some of the resources coming in the near future are going to be better still.

So there is your introduction to The Gospel Coalition. Feel free to ask questions and, if I can, I will answer them. If I do not know the answers, I will try to find someone who does.

April 24, 2009
The Bride Was Beautiful
“Katie Kirkpatrick, 21, held off cancer to celebrate the happiest day of her life. Katie had chased cancer, once only to have it return-to clog her lungs and grab hold of her heart. Breathing was difficult now, she had to use oxygen. The pain in her back was so intense it broke through the morphine that was supposed to act as a shield. Her organs were shutting down but it would not stop her from marrying Nick Godwin, 23, who was in love with Katie since 11th grade.” (HT:Jollyblogger)
An Interview with Bruce Ware
JT interviews Bruce Ware about his book Big Truths for Young Hearts.
Gospel Coalition Audio
You can now download the audio for each of the messages from this week’s Gospel Coalition conference.
Birth Control and Earth Day
We are starting to see more and more of this—birth control being touted as a solution to environmental issues.
April 23, 2009

As I wrote yesterday, I am in Chicago at The Gospel Coalition Conference and I am here primarily to discover what The Gospel Coalition (TGC) is and why you and I should care about it. It is my impression that most people are quite confused, as I am, about what the organization is and what it hopes to accomplish. I am also uncertain as to who this organization is for—whether it is exclusively for pastors, if it is for both pastors and laypersons, and whether it is open to Christians of all stripes or only those who hold to certain points of theology.

And so I have been here on a fact-finding mission. Today and tomorrow I will share with you what I’ve learned (and what I am continuing to learn).

What is The Gospel Coalition Not?
Sometimes it is easier to define something from the perspective of what it is not. This may help alleviate confusion by allowing us to see what roles this organization does not intend to play. And in this case we will find that The Gospel Coalition is not a church and that it is not a denomination. It seeks to support both churches and denominations but to exist separately from them. It is wider than denominations even while acknowledging that denominations must continue to exist. It seeks to support the local church without replacing it.

It is also not a replacement for anything. It seeks to exist alongside Together for the Gospel (which is why they have conferences on alternating years) and the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It exists alongside churches and denominations.

The Gospel Coalition is also not a conference. It does (at least at the moment) have a large conference every two years, but this is only a part of what it is and what it does.

Who is The Gospel Coalition?
The Gospel Coalition is the brainchild of D.A. Carson and Tim Keller and they continue to lead it. However, they do hope that this organization will outlive them and will move beyond them. There are at this time only one or two employees of The Gospel Coalition. Beyond these men exists a Council of approximately fifty members who provide leadership, guidance and oversight. These Council members, all men and mostly pastors, are diverse theologically (within the theological foundation of TGC) and racially. And beyond the council are thousands of Christians of all walks of life who are members of TGC.

What is the Theological Foundation of The Gospel Coalition?
TGC has three foundation documents which you can access here. They are “The Gospel for All of Life: Preamble,” “Confessional Statement” and “Theological Vision for Ministry.” The documents are very consistent with the theology of the Reformation. They are distinctly Calvinistic when it comes to salvation and broad when it comes to secondary issues such as baptism and the end times.

Why Does The Gospel Coalition Exist?
The founders of The Gospel Coalition hope that it can become very big and very influential. In that way it is quite different from, say, Together for the Gospel, which is much more limited in its scope. Yet this want this to happen from the bottom up, not the top down. The Gospel Coalition wants you (no matter who you are) to become an active participant and to participate on a regular basis. And through hundreds of thousands of participants, they want to create a network of like-minded believers who, together, can “stimulate one another to faithfulness and fruitfulness in life and ministry in this rapidly-changing, increasingly urbanized, and spiritually hungry world.” “National and regional conferences constitute part of the outworking of this vision. At the same time we hope in due course to foster ties of mutual encouragement and support with believers in other cultures from which we have much to learn.”

So TGC exists, at least in part, to create and to foster a network of Christians (and a network of networks of Christians) who are committed to the gospel and are committed to working with other believers to further the gospel. They seek to do this on a regional level, a national level and even an international level.

And now I have a few more i’s to dot and a few more t’s to cross. In my next article I will tell you about how you, no matter who you are (Christian or not, Reformed or not, Pastor or not, etc, etc) can participate and whether or not, at least as far as I can determine, you should participate.

April 23, 2009
Global Warming and Protestant Pastors
“Though many people insist global warming is real and man-made, Protestant pastors aren’t entirely convinced, according to a new study from LifeWay Research.”
China vs. US: A Visual Comparison
Mint.com has put together an interesting infographic comparing various aspects of both the United States and China.
No Truth Without Love, No Love Without Truth
Dr Mohler: “Liberal churches have redefined compassion to mean that the church changes its message to meet modern demands. They argue that to tell a homosexual he is a sinner is uncompassionate and intolerant. This is like arguing that a physician is intolerant because he tells a patient she has cancer. But, in the culture of political correctness, this argument holds a powerful attraction.”
The “Honey Do” List
Here’s an article for husbands who can never reach the end of the “Honey Do” list. “Just as you can never complete the “Honey-Do” list, neither can you ignore it (to do so will alternately whip your wife into an uncontrolled fury or send her crashing to the floor in a fit of tears depending on what day of the week it is).” (HT:Amy)
April 22, 2009

Since yesterday morning I’ve been in Chicago at The Gospel Coalition Conference. This is my first time at this particular conference and, as you may have noticed, I am not giving it the usual liveblog treatment. The sessions are going out live over the internet (where, from what I hear, tens of thousands of people are taking them in) so there seemed to be little reason to go through all the work of typing out summaries. If you want to watch them, simply head over to christianity.com. You can watch live as it happens and, as soon as they can work out the details, you’ll also be able to watch the archived sessions.

I came here with one goal—to figure out what The Gospel Coalition is and to find out if (and why) you should care. And, honestly, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure it out. It has proven a bit harder than I would have thought. Somehow the vision for this organization or conference or movement—this coalition—is just a little bit hard for me to describe. This is the reason for the silence on my blog—I’ve been learning. I’ve been going to sessions featuring D.A. Carson and Tim Keller (the men behind it) and have been talking to guys like Ben Peays who does the administration and is, as far as I know, one of only one or two employees of the Coalition. I’ve been asking almost everyone I meet while walking the halls and hanging out in the bookstore, “What is The Gospel Coalition?”.

I think I am starting to figure it out. Check in here tomorrow and I will start to tell you what it is, what it hopes to be and how you can be a part of it.