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February 28, 2008

Roy Halladay is the kind of athlete that other players just want to be around. For many years now he has served as the ace of the Toronto Blue Jays’ pitching staff and he is consistently one of the top players in the game. He has achieved his success not only by having innate talent, but also (and primarily, I’m sure!) by working very, very hard. He drives himself relentlessly, training both his body and his mind so he can do his absolute best all the time. He expects no less. Other players on the team love to spend time with him. Just being near him and observing how he trains himself is valuable for other players. Many of the Jays would testify that being near him, watching him and copying him has made them better athletes. That’s often the way it is, isn’t it? Solomon knew this and said, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” We become like those around us.

I’ve been asked to speak a couple of times in the next few weeks on the book of Acts and I’ve been reading the book in my times of Bible study. Acts has long been my favorite New Testament book. I love it for its history, describing the earliest days of the church, and its theology, showing how early Christians began to work out Christian theology. There is something pure and inspiring in the early church and its something we’ve been trying to recapture ever since.

Whenever I read through Acts there are certain stories, passages or phrases that stop me every time. One of these is in the fourth chapter. Acts 4:13 reads like this: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” Hauled before the Jewish Council, John and Peter were asked by what power they had healed a lame beggar. Peter, though only a fisherman in a time of great rhetoric, was filled with the Holy Spirit, and went straight to the cross and to the gospel, speaking boldly and confidently. This left the religious authorities perplexed. How was it that ordinary, uneducated, common men could know so much and do so many great things. How could they speak with such authority? It seems it was right here that one of them had a little burst of inspiration and suddenly recognized that these men were two of Jesus’ disciples. They had gotten rid of Jesus, but now here were His followers, healing in His name and teaching men about their Master. Here they were speaking on behalf of Jesus. Matthew Henry says, “When they understood that they had been with Jesus, had been conversant with him, attendant on him, and trained up under him, they knew what to impute their boldness to; nay, their boldness in divine things was enough to show with whom they had had their education.” The authorities looked at these men and realized they had been with Jesus. This explained their behavior. Suddenly it all made sense. They weren’t happy.

I find that phrase such a challenge and such an inspiration. “They had been with Jesus.” It is inspiring to know that the source of the disciples’ boldness and confidence was not anything in themselves, but was a direct result of the time they had spent with Jesus. By living with Him and communing with Him, they became like Him. It was inevitable. For three years they sat at His feet, followed Him from town to town, and acted as His deputies. For three years He trained them and for three years they became increasingly like Him. They walked with the wise and became wise.

It is easy to be jealous of those disciples. There isn’t much most Christians wouldn’t give to be able to spend three years with Jesus. We can only imagine how that would change us, mold us, shape us. But there is reason to rejoice, nonetheless. God has given us His Word that we might learn to live as He would have us live. The Bible is perfectly sufficient for all matters of the Christian life. We, too, can be with Jesus by communing with Him in the Word. And this is the challenge for us. If we wish to be like Jesus, we need first to be with Jesus. Listen to Matthew Henry once more. “Those that have been with Jesus, in converse and communion with him, have been attending on his word, praying in his name, and celebrating the memorials of his death and resurrection, should conduct themselves, in every thing, so that those who converse with them may take knowledge of them that they have been with Jesus; and this makes them so holy, and heavenly, and spiritual, and cheerful; this has raised them so much above this world, and filled them with another. One may know that they have been in the mount by the shining of their faces.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones says something similar. “May we all learn the lesson of this old incident. Let us meet with this Jesus and listen to Him, and soon we, too, will become phenomena. We will become men and women who are enigmas to everybody else.”

Have you met with Jesus? This is the challenge for us. We are to study the Word and to learn from it, immersing ourselves in it, so that people will look at us and hear us speak and see and hear something other-worldly. They will only be able to conclude, “They have been with Jesus!”

February 25, 2008

It’s no secret around here that I love the book of Proverbs and consider it my “home page” in the Bible. I read through Proverbs at least once a year and, whenever I’m not sure what else to read, I turn to it. And while I love Proverbs and envy the wisdom of Solomon I find something really sobering about his life. Whenever I consider Solomon, I am faced with the question of how a man of such great wisdom and discernment could end his life so far from the Lord. How did such a wise man become so foolish? How did such a discerning man stray so far?

I’m far from the only person who has wondered this. Just last week I received an email from a friend and reader of this site who had just finished reading The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment. He asked a question that went something like this: If Solomon was the most discerning man who ever lived (besides Jesus, of course), and discernment is the application of wisdom, then how do we account for his spiritual digression? How can a truly discerning man be disobedient?” I’ve written about this a little bit in the past but it seemed like a good chance to say something more. How did Solomon, who was so wise and so discerning, end up so far from the Lord?

Solomon’s wisdom is unparalleled by any other human. The Bible tells us that the Queen of Sheba once came to Solomon, having heard of his great wisdom, and “told him all that was on her mind.” There was nothing she asked that he could not answer, for “Solomon answered all her questions; there was nothing hidden from the king that he could not explain to her.” We know that “God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore, so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all other men…” In the history of mankind, there was no one like Solomon. He was extraordinarily gifted by God.

Thus King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. And the whole earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind.” He was richly blessed, with wealth and power beyond measure. “He had 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horsemen, whom he stationed in the chariot cities and with the king in Jerusalem. And the king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stone, and he made cedar as plentiful as the sycamore of the Shephelah. And Solomon’s import of horses was from Egypt and Kue, and the king’s traders received them from Kue at a price. A chariot could be imported from Egypt for 600 shekels of silver and a horse for 150, and so through the king’s traders they were exported to all the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Syria.”

When the Queen of Sheba witnessed Solomon’s wisdom and gazed at all his wealth, the Bible tells us that there was no more breath in her. She was completely overwhelmed. I have felt the same as I’ve read about his life and have read his proverbs. The man’s wisdom and discernment is clearly unsurpassed (except by Jesus). And yet there is more to the story.

It is always a shock to turn to the tenth chapter of 1 Kings and to read about Solomon’s downfall. It is awful to hear how a man with such wisdom strayed so far from God. “Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, ‘You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.’ Solomon clung to these in love. He had 700 wives, princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart.” I find the next verse instructive. “For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father.” His wives turned away his heart so that it was not wholly true to the Lord his God. Solomon’s heart was at first divided between women and God, but it soon turned away altogether. He allowed the lust of his heart to overcome and overwhelm his love for God.

This is sobering, is it not? A man with the wisdom of Solomon, a man who had had the Lord appear to him twice and who had heard the Lord directly command him not to turn after other gods, turned away nonetheless. Though a wise man, the Lord told him “you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you.” How could this happen?

Ironically, I believe that we can find the key to Solomon’s downfall in one of his own proverbs. In Proverbs 19:27 we read “Cease to hear instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge.” There are some proverbs that are multi-layered and which require great thought. This is not that kind. That meaning of this one is plain. Those who cease to listen to wise instruction, instruction based on the fear of the Lord, will quickly stray. While we cannot know for certain, I am increasingly convinced that this is what happened to Solomon. While he was young, he was visited by God and was endowed with great wisdom and discernment. When he was only a young man, but still a king, he called out to God in what seems to be a healthy apprehension of the difficulties he would face as king:

At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.” And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. And you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?”

God was pleased with Solomon’s request, replying “I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days. And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.” Solomon knew his weakness and, in humility, cried out to God and asked for His strength. As a little child cries to his father for help Solomon cried out in dependence on God. God was pleased to hear, pleased to answer, and pleased to give to Solomon far more than he asked. Solomon asked for discernment, but was also given great wisdom, great wealth, and great power. God lavished gifts upon him.

But as Solomon grew older, he began to depend less on God. I believe he began to depend on his own wisdom and to stray ever-further from God’s instruction. Where there was once humble dependence on God, there was now dependence on himself. In so doing, he strayed from words of knowledge, and strayed from God Himself. John Anderson once preached a sermon in which he said, “Erring from the words of knowledge is direct rebellion against the authority of God, whose law binds us to believe whatever he reveals. The language of obstinate error is, I prefer my own wisdom and my own will in such a particular to the wisdom and will of God himself.” Solomon preferred his wisdom to God’s wisdom, his ways to God’s ways. The whole earth once “sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind.” But I believe Solomon soon allowed his own earthly wisdom to overtake his mind. He ceased hearing instruction and strayed from words of knowledge. He strayed from wisdom. He strayed from God.

Wisdom and discernment, then, are character traits that, like the moon, can wax and wane. They are gifts of God, but gifts that we can throw away. They are gifts that need to be nurtured and maintained. We cannot take them for granted, taking refuge in the fact that we may be wise and discerning right now. We need to continue to strive after them and to seek them. We need to learn from Solomon that even the wisest man today may be the greatest fool tomorrow. We depend on grace, even to sustain our wisdom and discernment.

If Solomon could stray so far from the Lord, I know that I can too. This is a sobering thought. This is a terrifying thought, even. But the solution to avoiding the folly of Solomon is clear. I need to take care that I never cease to hear instruction. I must live with an intense focus on God’s Word, never believing that I have learned enough, never believing that I’ve arrived. I must know that from this day to the day I die, I need to maintain a humble dependence on God. I must trust that His words of instruction will continue to edify and strengthen me, protecting me from straying from the words of knowledge. I will never outgrow my need for His sustaining grace.

February 20, 2008

How do you solve a problem like Mark Driscoll? Is he a darling, a demon, a lamb? He’d out pester any pest; drive a hornet from it’s nest. He could throw a whirling dervish out of whirl. He is gentle; he is wild. He’s a riddle; he’s a child. He’s a headache. He’s an angel. He’s a…

Never mind. Forgive me for the introduction. Just a couple of days ago my mother-in-law and I were discussing The Sound of Music and somehow this came to mind. I post it with apologies to Maria Julie Andrews. May she sing forever.

Yesterday I posted a review of Mark Driscoll’s new book, Vintage Jesus. Were I to summarize the review I’d say that I was “hesitantly positive” towards it. I liked 99.9% of it but was troubled by a couple of mis-steps that I judged to be quite serious. These involved Driscoll’s use of phrases that I’d consider inappropriate. If you’d like to know more, you can read the review.

The review generated quite a reaction. The post quickly generated almost 70 comments before I realized the discussion was really not progressing and I opted to close it down. I was not surprised at the reaction. Love him or hate him, everyone has an opinion about Mark Driscoll. As has been proven when I’ve written about his other books, writing reviews is a lose-lose proposition. Some will react with anger that I even saw fit to mention the phrases that troubled me while others will react with disgust that, despite those things, I did not condemn the book and its author. Of course there were many who appreciated and I received some kind emails from people, many of whom known and love Driscoll, thanking me for taking a balanced approach. I hope the review communicated both my respect for him and this book and my hesitance based on his occasional use of rough language.

So how are we to think about Mark Driscoll? I’ve had to work through this in my mind and I thought I’d share just a few of the things that have rattled around my brain in the past years, weeks, months, days. I do this not to convince you but rather to explain why I could dislike certain references within Driscoll’s work, and yet not allow that to form the basis of a blanket condemnation of the book, the man, and his ministry. Maybe (and hopefully) this will explain to you why I reviewed the book as I did.

He’s a Real Guy

Not too long after I started blogging, I wrote a review that, in retrospect, may have been too harsh and perhaps even unfair (you may know of the author but have probably not read the book). As I read through that review today, I sometimes feel a twinge of conscience. Other times I feel that it was a legitimate criticism. In either case, several months after writing the review I had the opportunity to meet the author and was rather surprised to see that he was a real man. He wasn’t some cleverly programmed computer who just happened to write a book, but a real guy with a wife and kids and friends and family. Somehow that hadn’t occurred to me. It came as a shock and I believe it changed the way I review books and the way I address other people on this site.

Mark Driscoll may have a larger-than-life personality, but he is still a real guy who not only offends others but is no doubt offended by them. I’m sure his bravado on the stage is matched by times of sober reflection in private. We need to be certain that in our critiques we do not say things that we’d never say to him face-to-face and that we do not treat him as a guy that, since he is so remote from us, is somehow less human than we are. It’s an obvious point, I know, but in this depersonalized online world it’s worth reminding ourselves of it quite often.

This should go without saying, but I think it is sometimes easy to forget that people with big personalities are still people. Driscoll is a guy who, at the end of the day, goes home to a family not too different than yours or mine. He has children who love and and a wife, who, if she’s anything like mine, probably takes criticism of him harder than he does. He’s a real guy. Maybe he even cries at the end of chick flicks. Probably not. But he’s still a real guy.

Major on the Majors

Last weekend I had the privilege of spending a fair bit of time with D.A. Carson and he said something about Driscoll that I found interesting and meaningful. Because he has said this to others, I don’t think I’m violating any kind of trust in mentioning it. There is no doubt that people have had difficulty knowing what to do with Driscoll and knowing how to think about him. But Carson said he finds it helpful to look not just at where Driscoll is, but at the trajectory he is on. I took that to mean that if we look at where he has come from and then plot a course by where he is now, we’ll see that he is growing and maturing as a Christian and that he is continually emphasizing better and more biblical theology. We are all works in progress. This is not to say that we should hope that Mark Driscoll grows up to become John MacArthur or R.C. Sproul. Rather, it simply means that it is sometimes wise to look at the wider picture.

When we look to that wider picture we see that Driscoll clearly believes in and teaches the gospel. He has proven that he has a very good grasp on Christian doctrine and that he is no theological light-weight. He has proven that he’s unashamed to preach the gospel in contexts adamantly opposed to it. Thus any of our criticisms of him are dealing with, at best, secondary matters. This is an important matter of perspective.

By Their Fruit…

Matthew 7:16 is a well-known passage and one that is important to this kind of discussion. In a passage dealing with false prophets (a title many are willing to assign to Driscoll) Jesus says, “You will recognize them by their fruits.” And when we look at Driscoll’s ministry, there is no doubt that it is bearing fruit. While I have not traveled to Mars Hill and have not spent a lot of time in Acts 29 churches, I’ve spoken to many people who have. And it seems beyond dispute that the church and the movement are seeing a huge number of genuine, gospel conversions. These are not people who are coming forward at a crusade and later returning home and wondering just what they’ve done, but people who are seeing their hearts and their lives transformed by the gospel. There are multitudes being saved among the most difficult-to-reach demographic in the most difficult cultural settings in America. They are not being saved to a gospel of easy-believism or self-esteem, but to the true gospel built upon true, biblical theology.

If we are to judge Mark Driscoll, his church and its church planting movement by its fruits, we will have to conclude that God is choosing to bless them and to bless them in abundance. Like it or not (and for some reason I think too many “discerning” people don’t like it and refuse to admit it!), God is using this guy for His glory.

Because of…or Despite?

This may be a seemingly-silly distinction, but it is one that I’ve found helpful. It is true of any Christian that there are times God uses us because of who He has made us to be. He has given us all certain talents and gifts and He often uses us because of these things. God blessed Charles Spurgeon with a towering intellect, an incredible memory, and an amazing ability to communicate and through these God-given means He used Spurgeon. Yet it is equally true that God uses people despite certain aspects of their lives of personalities. All of us are blinded to certain sins and failings and all of us continue to provoke God on a daily basis. But God uses us despite these things.

When it comes to Mark Driscoll, some Christians would say that God uses him despite his use of sometimes-vulgar language while others would say that God uses him because of such cultural relevance. Of course there are others, some of whom seem to fancy themselves the church’s conscience, who would say that Driscoll is not and will not be used by God because of these things, but I’d suggest they are simply ignoring clear evidence to the contrary. The basis for this “because of / despite” distinction will come down to a Christian’s understanding of certain biblical exhortations about language and to a person’s biblically-informed conscience. In either case, we need to acknowledge that Christians differ on certain issues and what is vulgar to one person may not be to another. We need to allow room for conscience to speak where biblically-submitted Christians differ. So you will need to respect my hesitance when it comes to phrases I understand to be vulgar while I’ll have to tolerate your freedom to disagree. This is true tolerance—a respect on the basis of differences.

So?

I have never met Mark Driscoll. I don’t think he and I have ever exchanged emails or text messages or instant messages or anything else (or not that I remember, anyways). So I have no personal connection to him. But I love the guy as a brother in Christ. Whatever you feel about Mark Driscoll, you’ll need to agree that God is using him in an unusually powerful way. You’ll need to affirm that he is a brother. This is a reason for rejoicing, and I do rejoice. I pray for Mark Driscoll, that God would continue to bless his ministry and continue to do amazing things through him. I do not agree with some of the ways he chooses to communicate, but neither do I need to. He is doing the Lord’s work in a tough place. And I love him in Christ and support him in that work.

February 18, 2008

I got to bed just a little bit later than usual last night. But when I settled into bed, I felt that kind of comforting fatigue—the kind that is not so overbearing that I’m exhausted, but the kind that means I’m really looking forward to a good night’s rest. You know the kind, I’m sure. It’s the kind of tired that makes stretching out between the sheets a real pleasure.

There was one false start before I got to sleep. I was just drifting off when I heard the bedroom door rattle and Abby walked in. She told us that she couldn’t sleep. Aileen got up and tucked her back in, turning on a light to make sure she wouldn’t be scared. A few minutes later we were all asleep. But then, probably around 1 AM, I heard Abby calling for me. She was scared again and was crying. I have no memory of what happened next, but I guess I must have tucked her back into bed, convinced her that everything was fine, and crawled back into bed. A couple of hours later it was Nick’s turn. He marched into our room and woke me up, telling me that his ear was hurting so badly he couldn’t sleep. All things pain-related are Aileen’s department, so she dosed him with some kind of medication, put some hot cloths on his ear, and we went back to sleep. An hour later Michaela was awake, scared by the sound of the strong winds blowing through the trees outside our window. We awoke to her cries of “Mommy!” She ended up in bed with us—all twenty five hot, pointy, fuzzy pounds of her. At this point I turned off my alarm and figured I’d just have to let myself sleep in so I wouldn’t be completely comatose all day. And so the night went. I awoke at seven in the morning (which is sleeping late for me) feeling not the nice kind of tired, but the exhausted kind of tired that comes from too little rest; too little sleep. It’s the kind of tired that leaves circles under my eyes and requires an extra kick of caffeine to be able to go about the usual routine. It just wasn’t a very good night, even if it did begin with promise.

A few weeks after Nick was born, our first child, Aileen and I were facing the exhaustion that comes with a newborn baby. We were just learning to be parents and still assumed that every cough and every sigh meant he was dying. He was a restless baby and didn’t settle into good sleep patterns for a long time. Aileen and I both spent many nights pacing the floors with him. I remember talking to my mother around this time and the words she said stuck with me: “The next time you feel well-rested, you’ll be in heaven.” They may not have been particularly comforting words, but they were realistic. Mom said that, by the time the kids really settled into good sleep patterns, I’d be too old to sleep well anymore. When we had that first child I guess I threw away any hope of really feeling well-rested.

It’s worth it, of course. I wouldn’t trade my children for any number of good night’s sleeps or any amount of rest. But as I lay in bed last night, in those moments where I was just too tired to get to sleep, I began to wonder about heaven. What will it be like to feel really, really well-rested? What will it be like to be able to feel one hundred percent? Will there be fatigue in heaven? Will there be rest? Heaven will, of course, be rest…but will there be sleep?

As I tend to do when I’ve got questions about heaven, I opened Randy Alcorn’s book Heaven this morning and, sure enough, he had some things to say about this. He says:

Our lives in Heaven will include rest (Hebrews 4:1-11). …

Eden is a picture of rest—work that’s meaningful and enjoyable, abundant food, a beautiful environment, unhindered friendship with God and with other people and animals. Even with Eden’s restful perfection, one day was set aside for special rest and worship, Work will be refreshing on the New Earth, yet regular rest will be built into our lives.

To be honest, I am a little skeptical when it comes to Alcorn’s reasoning here, but he does make an interesting case. But what really stood out to me were his next words:

Part of our inability to appreciate Heaven as a place of rest relate to our failure to enter into a weekly day of rest now. By rarely turning attention from our responsibilities, we fail to anticipate our coming deliverance from the Curse to a full rest.

Make every effort to enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:11). It’s ironic that it takes such effort to set aside time for rest, but it does. For me, and for many of us, it’s difficult to guard our schedules, but it’s worth it. The day of rest points us to Heaven and to Jesus, who said, “Come to me, all you who are weary … and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

Rest is innately good. God Himself rested after completing His work of creation—a perfect being resting after completing the perfect work of creating a perfect world. God built rest into this world. And God gave us one day to practice rest—to learn how to rest. How good it is to set that day aside and to use it just to rest. But beyond that day, God also gives us little glimpses of the rest that is to come. When we used to own a cottage, one of my favorite things to do was to head out alone over the lake in the canoe. And halfway across the lake I would just sit back with a Coke in one hand, a book in the other, and the sun shining on my face. And I’d just relax and let the water take me where it wanted. It was such a beautiful time of peace and rest. And maybe it was a foretaste of the rest that is to come. Today a similar feeling comes as I kick back on a Sunday afternoon with a cold Coke, a good book, a comfortable couch, and a ballgame on TV. It is rest and it is good.

I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that only rarely will I really feel anywhere close to one hundred percent while on this earth. To be an adult, to be a parent, is to be tired. But as life goes on, I begin to look to those moments of rest as more than just a chance to rejuvenate. I see them also as a glimpse of what is to come. I see them as opportunities to learn how to rest—to learn how to enjoy the rest that will come with the new heavens and the new earth. They are a taste, even if only a faint one, of the true rest.

February 15, 2008

Some time ago I promised an article on the subject of conditional versus unconditional forgiveness. I’ve had many false starts and have been largely unsatisfied with anything I’ve written on the subject. So I decided to simplify and to provide only an outline of my thoughts on the subject. I am, perhaps, a little less than perfectly confident in my beliefs on this subject which is why I do not wish to be too dogmatic. Instead, take this article this as my understanding of why forgiveness is to be conditional, not unconditional. I’ll just trace the progression of my position as I’ve looked to Scripture to seek to understand forgiveness. Much of my recent thought has been influenced by Chris Braun and his forthcoming volume Unpacking Forgiveness.

February 11, 2008

Do you remember learning to do long division back when you were in grade school? It was probably fourth or fifth grade when we learned to do it. It was a long and laborious process and one that, even in my day, seemed irrelevant. After all, we all had calculators and we knew that they could do it quickly and easily. With the tapping of a few buttons we could get our solution and it would be correct every time. Kids today can probably make an even better argument that division is best handled by computers or calculators. I’ve little doubt that once most of them are out of school they never do long division again.

In case you’ve forgotten, here’s a good step-by-step example of long division in operation (drawn from Wikipedia).

950 divided by 4:

1. The dividend and divisor are written in the long division tableau:

Now instead of dividing the whole dividend (950) by the divisor (4) we will simply divide each digit of the dividend by the divisor, one at a time, starting from the most significant (leftmost) digit:

2.The first number to be divided by the divisor (4) is the leftmost digit (9) of the dividend. Ignoring any remainder, we write the integer part of the result (2) above the division bar over the leftmost digit of the dividend.

Since we ignored the remainder, though, we have not accounted for the leftmost place entirely. That is to say: 4 × 2 is merely 8, and the relevant digit of the dividend was 9. Thus we subtract 8 from 9, yielding the remainder 1, to tell us how much of the leftmost place remains unaccounted for.

3. We “bring down” this unaccounted-for remainder from the leftmost place (1) then bring down the next digit of the dividend (5) and place it to the right of the remainder to create a new bottom number (15).

4. Next we repeat steps 2 and 3, using the newly created bottom number (15) as the active part of the dividend, dividing it by the divisor (4) and writing the results as before above and under the next digit of the dividend.

5. We repeat step 4 until there are no digits remaining in the dividend. The number written above the bar (237) is the quotient, and the result of the last subtraction is the remainder for the entire problem (2).

The answer to the above example is expressed as 237 with remainder 2. Alternatively, one can continue the above procedure to produce a decimal answer. We continue the process by adding a decimal and zeroes as necessary to the right of the dividend, treating each zero as another digit of the dividend. Thus the next step in such a calculation would give the following:

I’m sure you remember this kind of problem and solution. You probably remember hating having to go through all the bother. You probably remember, as I do, trying to get out of it. The argument my teachers made, and the argument I’m sure teachers continue to make today, is that doing the onerous task of long division not only teaches us how to do it on our own for those rare occasions that a computer or calculator or cell phone isn’t handy, but it also teaches how division works. By going through each step we see how it works—we learn not only the solution, but we also learn the process of solving it. It isn’t fun, but neither is it meant to be. It’s an educational process.

Since the release of my book I’ve done quite a few written and radio interviews and I’ve spoken to many people about the book face-to-face. A question that gets asked often is what I hope people will take from the book—what are one or two things that I really want people to learn. And this is where the parallel to long division comes in. If there is just one thing I want people to take away from the book it’s the categories of discernment. If Christians can read the book and begin to think in the black and white terms of discernment, I’ll be well pleased. Just knowing that discernment is an expectation for all of us is valuable knowledge and something many Christians really do not understand.

And second to that, I want people to realize that discernment is something we are responsible for as individuals. We cannot simply leave discernment to the experts. Rather, we each need to learn to discern and we each need to grow in the skill of discernment. Like using a calculator for division, we can rely on others to give us the bottom line. But like doing long division, it is far better to do the work ourselves and to ensure we understand how to discern. The theological equivalent of using a calculator may be just Googling what John Piper or John MacArthur says about a certain topic and taking that word as law. It may be asking a parent or pastor and accepting what they say without further thought. We are all prone to want to get to the final tally without going through the intervening steps.

But like the kid who cheats by using a calculator, we cheat ourselves if we do not do the difficult work of discernment. As we discern what is good and what is evil, what is right and what is wrong, we train ourselves to think as Christians and we train ourselves to really understand what discernment is. We make sure that we understand the difficult business of discernment—not only the end result but the process of getting there.

February 06, 2008

Some time ago a reader of this site, a new Calvinist, wrote to ask, “If a person is ‘a child of wrath’ from birth due to Adam’s sin and unable to choose God because of Adam’s sin, how is he responsible for his actions if he was born this way (and has no ability of his own to choose God)? … If Christ didn’t die for all men, yet all men were condemned for one sin (and by that sin, thereafter, unable to choose good), how is it just of God to condemn all men if they are ‘determined’ to be sinful by the action of Adam?”

This is one of those questions that could be answered in a few short lines, many sermons, or in a few great volumes. And it is probably best answered by someone far smarter than I am. But I will attempt it anyways, and hope to answer it satisfactorily, without going into laborious detail.

It is first important to understand that the Bible points us to a unity in the human race. Acts 17:26 tells us that “he [God] made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth.” Some of the older translations read “he made from one blood every nation of mankind.” Thus all of us are descendants of the one man and we have inherited his humanity and his attributes. The blood of Adam is in all of our veins. But Adam has passed down more than flesh and blood; he has also passed down sin.

John Piper writes, “The problem with the human race is not most deeply that everybody does various kinds of sins—those sins are real, they are huge and they are enough to condemn us. Paul is very concerned about them. But the deepest problem is that behind all our depravity and all our guilt and all our sinning, there is a deep mysterious connection with Adam whose sin became our sin and whose judgment became our judgment” (“Adam, Christ, and Justification: Part I”).

Let’s now try to come to an understanding of how Adam’s sin affected the human race. This is one of the topics Paul addresses in Romans 5, a chapter that deals primarily with justification by faith. We will begin with verses 12 - 14 of that chapter. “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.” This is something of an awkward construct, for Paul begins a thought in verse 12, and does not conclude it until verse 18. Verses 13 through 17 are parenthetical, yet still crucial to the argument he is building.

We learn from these verses that sin came into the world through one man, and we know this to be Adam. We learn also that death entered the world through sin and that death spread to all men because all men sinned. The meaning of these last words has been in dispute throughout the history of the church. Somehow we need to reconcile the fact that when Adam sinned, every human being also sinned, even though they were not yet in existence. From the moment of Adam’s sin, God regarded the human race as sinful. This is the meaning of verses 13 and 14, for Paul tells us that even before the Law was given, men still died. Thus before God gave the Law to Moses, men were already counted guilty by God on the basis of their forefather’s sin. This is further reinforced in verses 18 and 19 which read “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”

We see that Adam was more than the father of the human race, but was also the representative head of the human race—our federal head. God had determined this from before the time Adam sinned. Thus Adam’s actions directly affected us. Consider the metaphor of the President of a nation. When the President of the United States declared war on Japan on December 8, 1941, every citizen of the nation was also at war with Japan. Acting as the head of all those whom he represented, the President made a decision that affected each one of them. It is, of course, an imperfect analogy, but sheds some light on how one man can represent others. Adam made the decision to wage war against God, and this affected every aspect of his being. It also affected all those whom he represented.

Just as our physical bodies are descended from Adam, the same is true with our souls. A child is not given a perfect, sinless soul at the moment of conception, but rather inherits an already sinful soul from his parents and ultimately, from Adam. So when we read in Genesis that Adam “fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth” we know that Adam’s likeness included a sinful body and a sinful soul. Just as Adam had sinned in the whole man, both body and soul, so Seth inherited that sinful body and soul.

There is a term here we ought to define. To impute is to “attribute or credit to” or, said otherwise, “attribute (responsibility or fault) to a cause or source.” Adam, acting as our representative, sinned on our behalf and his sin was then imputed to us—held on our account. Hodge writes, “Such was the relation, natural and federal, between him [Adam] and his posterity, that his act was putatively their act. That is, it was the judicial ground or reason why death passed on all men. In other words, they were regarded and treated as sinners on account of his sin.” Thus Adam’s sin is regarded as our own. When Adam sinned, we sinned and are justifiably considered condemned in God’s eyes because of this sin.

Naturally, there are objections to this view. I will outline two responses we can make against these objections:

First, anyone who protests that this is unfair has already committed a multitude of sins, proving his own sinfulness. He has sinned because he is a sinner. God does not place an innocent man under Adam’s sin against his will. It is his own sins that will form the primary basis for his condemnation. Romans 2:6 tells us that God “will render to each one according to his works.” Similarly, Colossians 3:25 says, “…the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.”

Second, if we deny that men can be declared guilty on the basis of one man’s sin, we will have difficulty accepting the parallel between Adam and Christ, who is called the Second Adam. “As one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.” Adam stood as the representative head of the human race and sinned, but God sent His Son to stand as the second representative head and through Him provided salvation. We are counted guilty through Adam’s sin, but Christ, standing as the representative head of all who would believe in Him, obeyed God and now God counts us as righteous. To return to the word “impute,” we can now have Christ’s righteousness imputed to us, overcoming the sin of Adam.

Parenthetically, Wayne Grudem provides a third response, but seems to give it little credence. He suggests the view that any other human would also have sinned had he been in Adam’s place. However, the Bible does not explicitly state this and by Grudem’s own admission, “it does not seem to be a conclusive argument, for it assumes too much about what would or would not happen” (Systematic Theology, page 495).

So now we turn back to the original question of how it is that God can condemn all men on the basis of one man’s action. Or said otherwise, how can He hold our sins against us when we are so predisposed to sin that we are unable not to sin? As we have seen, Adam’s sin is our own as fully as it was his. This is just an unavoidable biblical reality. Yet this is not something we should regret or despise. Rather, we ought to embrace this, for if this is true, it is equally true that Christ stands as our representative and is able and willing to impute His righteousness to our account. There is nothing to be gained in objecting to the imputation of Adam’s guilt, but everything to be gained in accepting it. As G.I. Williamson says, “Explain it, or explain it not, as we may, it remains true. It is also a fact that there is no salvation for such sinners as we are, except by the word of Jesus Christ as the representative of His people” (The Shorter Catechism Volume 1). We cannot have one without the other.

February 04, 2008

I love language and the English language in particular. While I have always enjoyed using words and studying language, I found that my love of English was forged during the time I spent studying other languages, primarily those from which English is derived—Latin, Greek, and to some extent, French. I also studied linguistics and, of course, the English language itself. I came to love understanding how people use words to craft ideas. There is a good reason that people continue to study Shakespeare in high school despite increasingly antiquated language. Shakespeare was a master of the language, a master word crafter, and it benefits anyone to learn from his example. The same is true of Dickens or any other number of authors. What I learned is that words are important. Who would want to read a modern translation of Shakespeare? We would be left with nothing but a second-rate story. And an author’s words are important. That may come as no great surprise and may even seem obvious, but the translators of dynamic equivalent translations would have to disagree, at least somewhat, as their translation philosophy proves that they feel ideas are more important than words.

Whenever I take the time to read the Bible slowly and meditatively, and this is particularly true of reading the Old Testament, I am struck by the beauty of the language as it is translated in the English Standard Version, my translation of choice. While I do not know how to read Hebrew, I often hear people speak of the poetic nature of the language which leads even the prose to have poetic qualities. It seems to me that the ESV does an admirable job of capturing that. The same cannot be said of all Bible translations. I have come to love the little literary devices, the metaphors and phrases used by the ancient writers and find that they add so much to the reading of the text. Without a translation that accurately rendered these sayings we would lose so much of the flow and meaning of the text.

There is so much beauty in the prose of the Old Testament and I am thankful to have access to a translation (and to several translations, really) that accurately renders the metaphors and phrases used by the original authors. Let me provide you with a few examples. I am going to use the ESV as my standard essentially-literal translation. I do this not necessary to indicate that it is superior to the others within the category, but simply because it is the translation I use for my devotional and study work.

Let’s begin with 1 Kings 2:2 where King David gives his final wishes to his son Solomon. The ESV renders this “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, and show yourself a man.” The other essentially literal translations agree with this translation as the NASB, KJV and NKJV are all very similar. There are two constructs here that I feel are essential to the text. “I am about to go the way of all the earth,” and “show yourself a man.” Let’s see how several other common translations render this particular verse:

  • “I am about to go the way of all the earth,” he said. “So be strong, show yourself a man.” (NIV)
  • “I am going where everyone on earth must someday go. Take courage and be a man.” (NLT)
  • “My son, I will soon die, as everyone must. But I want you to be strong and brave.” (CEV)
  • “I’m about to go the way of all the earth, but you—be strong; show what you’re made of!” (Message)

As we see, the NIV renders the verse in a way that is consistent with the original text. The NLT deviates a little bit, expanding the meaning of “the way of all the earth” to “where everyone on earth must someday go.” It also says, “be a man” rather than “show yourself a man.” The CEV further interprets the verse, removing any sort of literary device in both parts. The Message does a little better, maintaining the first half of the verse but removing the “show yourself a man.”

What is lost in the NLT and the CEV is the metaphor “the way of all the earth.” It is an important term, beautifully poetic, and surely one that is worth some time in meditation. There is a depth of meaning to that phrase that is clearly missing in words like “I will soon die, as everyone must.” Readers of the NLT and CEV have no access to this phrase and miss out on the wonderful opportunity to meditate upon it and learn from it.

Another example comes only one verse later. 1 Kings 2:3 continues David’s instruction to his son. David exhorts Solomon to follow God and “walk in His ways.” The ESV translates the verse as “…and keep the charge of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn.” Let’s see how other translations render “walking in his ways.”

  • …and observe what the LORD your God requires: Walk in his ways, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and requirements, as written in the Law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go,” (NIV)
  • Observe the requirements of the LORD your God and follow all his ways. Keep each of the laws, commands, regulations, and stipulations written in the law of Moses so that you will be successful in all you do and wherever you go.” (NLT)
  • Do what the LORD your God commands and follow his teachings. Obey everything written in the Law of Moses. Then you will be a success, no matter what you do or where you go.” (CEV)
  • Do what GOD tells you. Walk in the paths he shows you: Follow the life-map absolutely, keep an eye out for the signposts, his course for life set out in the revelation to Moses; then you’ll get on well in whatever you do and wherever you go.” (Message)

The term “Walking in his ways” is a wonderful metaphor for living a life that honors God. We seek to emulate Him by following carefully in the footsteps of God. I am reminded of a song by the Smalltown Poets, “Call me Christian,” where they sing, “As a boy I’d put my steps / In my brother’s bigger tracks / To match his stride / And just like that I follow Jesus / Jesus is my guide.” That type of imagery is absent from the New Living Translation as well as the CEV. The Message is quite close and the NIV is, once again, accurate.

Moving along we come to 1 Kings 2:9. David asks Solomon to exact revenge against Shimei, a man who had cursed David. “Now therefore do not hold him guiltless, for you are a wise man. You will know what you ought to do to him, and you shall bring his gray head down with blood to Sheol.” The metaphorical phrase here is “bring his gray head down with blood to Sheol.” Again, this is a wonderfully descriptive phrase that has more meaning than simply “kill.” Yet several translations provide only this meaning.

  • But now, do not consider him innocent. You are a man of wisdom; you will know what to do to him. Bring his gray head down to the grave in blood.” (NIV)
  • But that oath does not make him innocent. You are a wise man, and you will know how to arrange a bloody death for him.” (NLT)
  • Now you must punish him. He’s an old man, but you’re wise enough to know that you must have him killed. (CEV)
  • But neither should you treat him as if nothing ever happened. You’re wise, you know how to handle these things. You’ll know what to do to make him pay before he dies.” (Message)

The NIV does a good job, only changing Sheol to grave. The NLT writes about a bloody death. This seems to miss the point for the verse is not primarily concerned with the mode of death, but with the reason for the death. The Message misses the mark altogether. Neither the NLT, the CEV or the Message see fit to render the word “grey” or “hoary” (as the King James renders it). Is that not a word God placed in the text? Is it not an important word? I do not understand why they would knowingly remove a word God saw fit to include.

One of the most beautiful and oft-repeated phrases in the Old Testament is found in 1 Kings 2:10. “Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David.” Several essentially literal translations render “slept” as “rested” but the meaning remains the same. The Bible Knowledge Commentary says of this verse, “The picturesque phrase rested with his fathers beautifully describes David’s death and suggests that his activity did not cease forever. Indeed, the bodies of all believers who die simply ‘rest’ until they are resurrected to live with God and serve Him eternally.” David entered a temporary rest as he, along with the rest of Creation, awaits the final consummation. Here is how other translations render that verse:

  • Then David rested with his fathers and was buried in the City of David.” (NIV)
  • Then David died and was buried in the City of David.” (NLT)
  • David was king of Israel forty years. He ruled seven years from Hebron and thirty-three years from Jerusalem. Then he died and was buried in Jerusalem.” (CEV - combines verses 10-11)
  • Then David joined his ancestors. He was buried in the City of David.” (Message)

The NIV remains consistent with the text. The NLT and CEV say simply that David died. The Message extends the verse by saying that David joined his ancestors, something that is a bit of a stretch but at least somewhat true to the meaning of the verse. The NLT and CEV do not allow their readers to see the beauty of “resting with his fathers.” Instead, David simply died. What a tragic loss! Readers of these translations will not see any hope beyond the grave. They will not know that David has gone to be with his fathers and that he is merely resting. Once more, are these not words that God deliberately placed in the text? Should readers not have access to them?

In 1 Kings 2:12 Solomon has assumed his father’s throne. In fact, according to an essentially literal translation, “Solomon sat on the throne of David his father, and his kingdom was firmly established.” While the meaning of the phrase “sat on the throne of David his father” is clear, meaning that Solomon succeeded his father as ruler, there is an interesting sense of continuity in the original words. Doing more than simply replacing his father, Solomon actually assumed his throne. This may seem a small distinction, but I feel it is important nevertheless. It is similar to verse 3 (above) where David exhorted Solomon to walk in God’s ways. Now Solomon is sitting on his father’s throne. Let’s see how other translations have rendered this verse:

  • So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David, and his rule was firmly established.” (NIV)
  • Solomon succeeded him as king, replacing his father, David, and he was firmly established on the throne.” (NLT)
  • His son Solomon became king and took control of David’s kingdom.” (CEV)
  • Solomon took over on the throne of his father David; he had a firm grip on the kingdom.” (Message)

Once more the translations are varied with the NIV being most literal and the CEV straying furthest from the text. The NLT, CEV and Message see fit to explain the verse while the NIV, along with the essentially literal translations, leave the words as they are. Through reading a literal translation we can picture Solomon ascending his father’s throne and taking over his responsibilities. This imagery is foreign to the dynamic equivalent translations.

Examples multiply as I read the Bible. I love these little literary constructs and love to think about them. They offer more than meets the eye and there is reward in doing the work of understanding them. I’ve also found that they provide wonderful “teachable moments” where I can ask my children what they might mean. They require thought and meditation.

I am grateful that I have access to such a solid translation of Scripture. While I do not know Hebrew, I still have access to an accurate translation of the author’s original words, complete with the phrases, words and metaphors that set one author apart from another. I have access to the full meaning, or as close as I can come without access to the original language, of what was written so long ago. I simply can’t understand how anyone would be satisfied with anything less.