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October 06, 2010

Last week I had the opportunity to speak at a local event called Eighth Letter. I’ve been asked to describe the theological perspective of the event and I haven’t been able to do better than “emerging church.” I know this title brings all kinds of baggage with it and that not too many people want to be associated with it anymore. Nevertheless, it’s probably the simplest theological shorthand I can use. Which is to say that I was definitely not representative of the speakers who were there (a list that included Shane Claiborne, Leonard Sweet, Peter Rollins, and many others).

The format of the event was rather interesting. Each of the speakers was to bring a letter, no longer than 15-minutes in length, and read it aloud. The letter was to communicate our most urgent message to the church of North America. It was that simple. I spoke on the Friday night and immediately after my talk participated in a very brief panel discussion hosted by Andy Crouch (an editor at Christianity Today and the author of Culture Making).

My letter focused in on getting the gospel right. And if you are interested, I’ve been given permission to post the message here, though only for a limited time. So give it a listen and let me know what you think. What would your most urgent message be?

You are missing some Flash content that should appear here! Perhaps your browser cannot display it, or maybe it did not initialize correctly.

The reaction to my message was a little bit on the cold side. I was probably something of a stranger to the audience at this conference and brought a letter that was quite a bit different from the rest. So while I was not booed off the platform and did not have anything thrown at me, my impression was that the message was not particularly popular.

If interested, you can buy my talk or any of the others at the Epiphaneia web site. You can also download (for free) the brief panel discussion.

Eighth Letter

April 15, 2009

John MacArthur has kicked off a bit of controversy with his posts on Song of Solomon and, in particular, with his rationale for doing so—addressing pastors who, when preaching through the book, “employ extremely graphic descriptions of physical intimacy as a way of expounding on the euphemisms in Solomon’s poem.” In his first two articles he has singled out Mark Driscoll as one he considers a prime offender. This will be the last time the name Driscoll comes up in this article; I really do not want his name to sideline any discussion.

As I wrote in yesterday’s A La Carte, I think this is a discussion that we will all benefit from. I look forward to hearing what Dr. MacArthur has to say about Song of Solomon and a proper, biblical way of understanding, interpreting and preaching it. I think his long and faithful ministry has given him the right to speak out and speak up. We’d be foolish to immediately write him off as old and irrelevant and out-of-touch (as some are doing, based on what I’ve seen in blog comments). There is no need to be defensive here! The men he is writing against are all big boys and can handle what he says and the discussion that will ensue.

And already I have read some interesting discussion. For example, Erik Raymond gave me some things to think about when he gave two reasons that he is uncomfortable with all the talk of sex coming out of evangelicalism today. Here is what he wrote:

1. The emphasis upon sex has become so strong that it has begun to sound like our message. The danger here is that the gospel of Jesus Christ is regrettably assumed, neglected or forgotten. When many evangelicals begin to ride the waves of media popularity and are given a platform to speak, they sound more and more like sex coaches than ministers of a message. Somewhere along the way that which is of first importance gets shelved.

2. Most of the way in which these pastors handle the text is just flat out troubling. Often times we are given a reading of a verse or a section and then the pastor launches off into sexual advice and counsel. And when there is something that is legitimately debated among Bible teachers the issue is not dealt with responsibly (in my view) but rather quickly. The text then, which has not been adequately unpacked within its context, is then made prescriptive for the Christian.

I have listened to a couple of sermons of the kind MacArthur is reacting against—sermons which tend to look at Song of Solomon line-by-line, expressing how each metaphor, each poetic device, describes a particular part of the body or a particular sexual act. I have been bothered by such sermons for two reasons. The first lines up with what Erik wrote above: the poor handling of the text. Turning Song of Solomon into a how-to manual that describes or prescribes certain acts is to miss the point of the book. As MacArthur says, “It is, of course, a lengthy poem about courtship and marital love. It is filled with euphemisms and word pictures. Its whole point is gently, subtly, and elegantly to express the emotional and physical intimacy of marital love—in language suitable for any audience.”

The other reason is one for which I’d be interested in feedback. Song of Solomon is poetry and as such, should not be treated, exposited, in the same way as prose. Not too many people would disagree with this. It strikes me as well that Song of Solomon is substantially different from other kinds of biblical poetry. If we compare one of David’s Psalms to Song of Solomon we see that they are tangibly different. So while it may make sense to progress line-by-line through Psalm 119, interpreting each line, it seems to me that Song of Solomon does not give itself to this kind of interpretation. Song of Solomon is an expression of wonder, an expression of joy, an expression of mystery. Or that’s certainly how it appears to me. I don’t think we are supposed to understand it in a word-by-word, line-by-line sense as we might the book of Romans.

MacArthur quotes a few lines. They are worth reading just for the beauty of the poetry and the creativity of the imagery:

A garden locked is my sister, my bride,
A rock garden locked, a spring sealed up.
Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates
With choice fruits, henna with nard plants,
Nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon,
With all the trees of frankincense,
Myrrh and aloes, along with all the finest spices.
You are a garden spring,
A well of fresh water,
And streams flowing from Lebanon.”
Awake, O north wind,
And come, wind of the south;
Make my garden breathe out fragrance,
Let its spices be wafted abroad.
May my beloved come into his garden
And eat its choice fruits!”

MacArthur says it right, I’m sure, when he says “Let’s face it: overall, the Song is about as far from explicit as the writer can get.” Had the author wanted to be explicit, he could have done so. Instead, he wrote in poetry, in metaphor, carefully crafting a poem that is full of mystery. “Song of Solomon is incredibly beautiful precisely because it is so carefully veiled. It is a perfect description of the wonderful, tender, intimate discovery that God designed to take place between a young man and his bride in a place of secrecy. We are not told in vivid terms what all the metaphors mean, because the beauty of marital passion is in the eye of the beholder—where it should stay.” To remove the veil is to remove the beauty!

So here is what I am wondering. Don’t we do damage to the Song of Solomon when we seek to interpret and explain every line? To use an old cliche, don’t we miss the forest for the trees? Isn’t it better to leave some mystery in the Song, understanding themes but ultimately finding satisfaction not in drawing a one-to-one comparison between metaphor and act, poetry and body part, but rather in seeing it as one man’s attempt at expressing the joy, the wonder and the mystery of sex and sexuality? Isn’t the very reason he had to use poetry was that prose just couldn’t express the wonder? The beauty and the mystery of the Song go hand-in-hand. To remove one is to remove the other.

March 20, 2009

Free Stuff Fridays

This week’s sponsor is christianaudio.com. It seems fitting that, as I blog the Ligonier Ministries National Conference focusing on The Holiness of God that we would give away some copies of the audio version of Sproul’s classic book by the same title.

The Holiness of God

October 07, 2007

Just a couple of days ago I completed a project for New Reformation Ministries, the teaching ministry of Dr. Steven Lawson. The timing was largely coincidental to the fact that only last week I was down in Mobile, Alabama at a conference hosted by Dr. Lawson and by his church. This is what the ministry is all about: “The unique focus of New Reformation is to recover and reclaim in the church a high view of God, an exalted vision of Him, who supremely reigns over all. Especially does this ministry seek to magnify the sovereign grace of God in the salvation of sinners. These transcendent truths that once shook the world in the sixteenth century are those same doctrines that are particularly featured in the preaching and teaching here.”

I assume that Dr. Lawson will eventually write a “Welcome to this site…” kind of article pointing out some of the site’s new features. But until he does so, I’ll outline some of the good new features that I’m most excited about.

First, and perhaps most importantly, the Sermons section has been completely overhauled. Because it is difficult to know what an audio file contains, and thus it is difficult to search for just the right audio file, we created a tagging system to try to pull out some of the key words. Thus you can look at the sermons through a tag cloud, picking out particular key words that are of interest to you. Of course sermons can also be viewed more traditionally through titles, texts, series, dates, and so on.

Second, the site’s Books section has been expanded a little bit. I think it will be improved further as the site evolves. But even in its current form it contains some good information about Dr. Lawson’s books, and especially his most recent titles from Reformation Trust.

Finally, the site now has both an RSS feed to update you on new articles and updates, and also a podcast address so you can receive Dr. Lawson’s sermons and conference messages as soon as they are posted at the site.

Of course this is not all the site has to offer. There are some good articles there along with information about Dr. Lawson and his ministry and information about where you can hear him speak. So be sure to drop by the new web site and let Dr. Lawson’s ministry serve your faith. He is, I am convinced, one of the finest expositors of our time and I’ve benefited greatly from his ministry.

November 02, 2006

Thursday November 2, 2006

Children: Amy points out a phenomenon my wife and I also noticed: “Whoever invented Daylight Saving Time did not have a baby in the house.”

Health: Jollyblogger points to a strange and interesting story about “Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert - how he lost his voice and got it back.”

Audio: Earlier this week John MacArthur was guest on Al Mohler’s radio program. You can hear the discussion here.

Church: Thabiti Anyabwile shares pictures from a baptism service he conducted for his new church on Grand Cayman.

Politics: An article by SunMedia shows how many immigrants find ways of bringing parents and siblings into Canada - quite simply, they marry them!

June 20, 2006

We were blessed to have my parents spend this weekend at our home. They drove here from Atlanta on Friday and left again bright and early this morning. It was their first time seeing our new house and, more importantly, seeing their new grand-daughter. Because my dad is only truly resting when he is hard at work, I asked him to help me with several projects around the house. These were either projects that I had not had time to attend to, or projects for which I would have to rely upon his expertise. As always, dad was glad to pitch in and to do what needed to be done. So while my mother spent as much time as she could with Aileen and the kids, dad and I got to work. On Saturday we installed a new air conditioner, something that turned out to be far easier said than done and that quickly consumed much of the day. The end result, though, was just what we had hoped for and was just in time to carry us through a couple of days of uncomfortable heat and humidity. On Monday, after spending the Lord’s Day in worship and in fellowship, we decided to attack the lawns and gardens. We laid sod in the backyard and planted perennials in the flower beds. We transformed the outside of our home.

Dad is a career landscaper and has a great love for rocks, trees, plants and flowers. I have spent countless hours with my father, and used to work with him quite often when I was younger. He must have given up on me eventually because I would do a half-baked job of nearly everything he asked of me. When plants needed a soaking, I’d give them only a quick shower before finding something more interesting to do. When plants needed to be buried deep in the ground, I would leave their roots exposed to the elements. I am sure it was on a scalding hot Ontario summer day, when I was covered in dirt and dust and manure, that I resolved that I would work a desk job when I was older.

Though I had worked with dad so often, it was only yesterday that I realized something fundamental to his choice of vocation. We were driving along Highway 5, a highway that represents the northern border of the town of Oakville. On the south side of the highway is a bustling suburban environment. Houses reach almost to the side of the road and there are newly-built gas stations on almost every corner. There are enough restaurants, Wal-Marts and big box stores to support a thriving community. In true Canadian style, the neighborhoods are predominantly flat and boring. The trees have been torn down, the valleys have been filled in, and the houses are often so close that a person could easily leap from roof-to-roof. Sometimes a single majestic, lonely tree stands at the entrance to a neighborhood with a sign underneath reading “Oak Trails.”

That is the south side of Highway 5. The opposite side, the north side, is everything that the south is not. Fields of corn and wheat border the highway. Many fields that have long laid fallow, stretch as far as the eye can see, passing into the distance. There are rolling hills and small forests. The occasional valley, with a stream running through it, cuts across the landscape. Cows graze and horses run.

On one side of Highway 5 is progress. A city thrives there, a city filled with men and women who commute into Toronto, the nerve center of Canada. These people choose to live in Oakville, the wealthiest city in Canada. They run the banks and own the businesses that drive our economy. Their demand for more houses, bigger houses, push the borders of Oakville ever further north. They push the borders toward the other side of Highway 5, the side that is nothing. Or that is what most of us see. Where we see nothing, dad sees beauty.

As we were driving along the highway, making our way to an eclectic, disorganized but well-stocked garden center that you would not notice unless you where it was, I heard dad cry, “Oh, look at that beautiful chestnut! Wow! Look at it!” I turned my head and saw a tree, standing tall and proud, rising above a field of grass. I’d like to describe it in more detail, but that is all I saw. A tree. But where I saw only a tree, I knew that dad saw something so much more. A few minutes later he pointed towards the urban sprawl and said, “Right down that road there used to be the biggest poplar in all of Ontario. It was six feet across at its base. I bet it’s long gone by now.”

For dad this is a tragedy. For many of us, a huge poplar tree is an annoyance. Its roots lift our sidewalks, disturb our gardens and tear into our foundations. Its massive trunk and swaying branches block our review or shade too much of our backyard. And so we cut it down and tear it apart. After all, it’s only a tree. But to dad it is more. It is an object of tremendous beauty.

I wish that I could see beauty the way dad does. I wish that I could delight in the simple, natural beauty of a chestnut tree. But all I see, even when I look closely, is a tree. I can describe it using adjectives—big, thick, leafy, round—but not in any adjectives that really capture the essence of its beauty. And that’s because I see only a tree.

I think that when dad sees a tree, he must see the tree’s Creator. He must see something more than the color and the shape. Maybe he sees God’s providence in a tree that has stood for fifty years. A hundred years. A tree that has offered shelter to generation after generation. Or maybe that tree is simply a beautiful work of art. Maybe that tree is a manifestation of the Artist who sculpted it in such a way to tell us something about Himself. That tree stands as a reminder of the great Creator. I don’t really know what dad sees in those trees. I never thought to ask him. But I wish I could see whatever he sees.

Highway 5 seems almost a parable to me. On one side is progress and on the other is nature. On one side is ugliness and on the other is beauty. I tend towards what is ugly but progressive. I tend to see urban sprawl as a sign of Canada’s progress as our population grows and our economy strengthens. But dad prefers natural beauty, even at the expense of progress. He sees the tragedy of a great tree falling and the tragedy of beauty being torn away only to be replaced by ugliness.

There is a reason that many of the fields north of Highway 5 lie fallow. Many of those fields, perhaps even all of them, have been purchased by developers. Oakville will soon have reached the limits of its growth. With Lake Ontario removing the possibility of southward growth, and with other cities to the east and the west, there is only one way for the city to move. By 2008 the city will leap across the highway. Trees will be cut down and trucked away to nearby mills. Hills will be flattened and the soil will be poured into the valleys. Sewers will cut into the fields and roads will be laid. Houses, schools and stores will spring up.

That chestnut tree is going to be a casualty of progress. Perhaps it will be left standing at the entrance to a neighborhood of half-million dollar houses where it will languish in the hard clay. Eventually it will die. I’ll shrug my shoulders. Dad will lament the loss of such beauty. I’ll wish that I could too.

September 14, 2005

Twelve Extraordinary Women.jpgJohn MacArthur wears a lot of hats. He is a pastor, theologian, author, teacher and president of a seminary. He also speaks at conferences and hosts a daily radio program. I assume he also finds time to spend with his wife and family. While he clearly excels at all of these roles, the one for which most of us know him best is simply as teacher of the Bible. And honestly, I cannot think of any man of this generation who does a better job of expositing the Scriptures. MacArthur has the amazing, God-given ability to make what is difficult seem simple. His years of passionate, careful, deliberate study of the Scripture have served to bring untold blessings to the body of Christ.

John MacArthur is one of my favorite teachers and his books have had a profound influence on my life and have done much to shape my theology. I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to preview his upcoming book, Twelve Extraordinary Women, which is due for publication later this year.

Preview

Twelve Ordinary Men, John MacArthur’s book on the apostles, was a surprise hit. After the book stayed on the bestseller lists for over a year, Thomas Nelson suggested publishing a second volume, this one dealing with some of the best-known women of the Bible. MacArthur accepted the challenge and drew up a long list of possible subjects. “I admit that I chose the twelve women featured here by a completely unscientific process: I weighed their relative importance in biblical history alongside the amount of material I had already developed on each of them as I have taught through various passages of Scripture. Then I chose the twelve women who were most familiar to me.” Twelve Extraordinary Women is not exactly a sequel to MacArthur’s Twelve Ordinary Men, yet it bears many similarities. Like its predecessor (and unlike the majority of MacArthur’s books), Twelve Extraordinary Women is not primarily expository. Instead, it is a series of brief character studies. Like Twelve Ordinary Men, it is ideally suited for personal or group study, and is intensely practical.

The women MacArthur chose as subjects for this book are: Eve, Sarah, Rahab, Ruth, Hannah, Mary, Anna, The Samaritan Woman, Martha and Mary, Mary Magdalene and Lydia. “My prayer for you is that as you read this book you will share their faith, imitate their faithfulness, and learn to love the Savior whose work in their lives made them truly extraordinary. Your life can be extraordinary, too, by His wonderful grace.”

The format of the book will be familiar to those who have read Twelve Ordinary Men. MacArthur spends a chapter discussing each of the women (though Martha and Mary share a single chapter) and shows that what made each of these women extraordinary was nothing they brought to God, but the work of the Savior in their lives. Each of them had a deep reverence towards God and trusted His promises, whether they looked forward to a time when the Savior would come, or whether they looked back at his death and resurrection. Some of them stood between the New and Old Testament eras, even witnessing with their own eyes the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

By way of introduction, MacArthur writes about the high position given to women within Scripture. Women are never relegated to a secondary status and, unlike so many other religions, are never degraded and considered less important than men. From the beginning of the New Testament era to the close of the canon of Scripture we see God granting extraordinary privilege to women. There are countless women in the Bible who stand as examples of faithfulness, integrity, hospitality and every other admirable virtue. “The faithfulness of these women is their true, lasting legacy. I hope as you meet them in Scripture and get to know more about their lives and characters, they will challenge you, motivate you, encourage you, and inspire you with love for the God whom they trusted and served. May your heart be set ablaze with the very same faith, may your life be characterized by a similar faithfulness, and may your soul be overwhelmed with love for the extraordinary God they worshiped.”

Each of the subsequent eleven chapters is a study of a particular woman, with MacArthur shining light on the Scriptural accounts of each subject. Each chapter is practical, showing how the virtues exemplified in the lives of the women can be applied to the life of the reader. The reader is show how he, too, can be extraordinary through the power of God.

What Others Are Saying

At this point I have not been able to find any endorsements for this book. It seems to me that with John MacArthur’s long track-record of successful, biblical books he hardly needs endorsements!

Content

Preface
 Introduction

1. Eve: Mother of All Living
2. Sarah: Hoping Against Hope
3. Rahab: A Horrible Life Redeemed
4. Ruth: Loyalty and Love
5. Hannah: A Portrait of Feminine Grace
6. Mary: Blessed Among Women
7. Anna: The Faithful Witness
8. The Samaritan Woman: Finding the Water of Life
9. Martha and Mary: Working and Worshiping
10. Mary Magdalene: Delivered from Darkness
11. Lydia: A Hospitable Heart Opened

Epilogue

Conclusion

Twelve Extraordinary Women is a worthy successor to Twelve Ordinary Men. This book is both informative and inspiring. It will lead the reader to understand what each of these twelve women surely knew, that God was the truly extraordinary one, as He conformed such ordinary women to the likeness of their Savior. I highly recommend this book for both personal and group study.

Availability

Twelve Extraordinary Women is being published by Nelson Books and according to Amazon will be available on the 1st of November, 2005. It is already available for pre-order:

It appears that in addition to the book, Thomas Nelson is publishing:

  • A Study Guide (which is not yet available at Amazon). For future reference, the SKU for the guide is 1418505579. The guide will contain “Insightful Questions for In-Depth Study, Places to Journal and Guided Prayers.”
  • An Audio CD. You can pre-order it from Amazon here.
August 23, 2005

Battle For The BeginningSeeing John MacArthur on Larry King Live tonight reminded me that the very first book review I ever wrote for this site (and to post at Amazon) was for his book Battle for the Beginning. I still count it as one of my favorite MacArthur books. It was a formative influence in my belief in young earth Creationism. What follows is my review, posted a little over two years ago.

John MacArthur wrote Battle For The Beginning primarily to address the world’s origins from a Biblical viewpoint. The book is aimed at a Christian audience and is not so much a defense of creationism as it is a defense of a literal six-day creation. This is not a book that primarily focuses on convincing unbelieving evolutionists of creationism, but rather it focuses on convincing Christians who believe that in some form of evolution (such as old-earth creationism or the Gap Theory) that the only valid reading of Genesis one and two is a literal reading. MacArthur bases much of the book on the view that Evolution is itself a religion that is completely opposed to Christianity. Creationism and Evolution, therefore, can never be mixed. We must believe in either one or the other.

After giving many reasons why Evolutionism is antithetical to God and His design, the book spends a chapter on each of the days of creation. In each chapter the author shows why anything other than a literal six-day creation is impossible. In so doing he gives many wonderful examples of the wonders and marvels of creation. Much of the book is focused on refuting the arguments of Hugh Ross, the most prominent of the theistic evolutionists.

I would highly recommend this book to any believer that is struggling with the conflict between creationism and evolutionism. MacArthur’s ability to accurately draw teaching from scripture and using God’s word as the ultimate teaching tool makes this one of the best books I have read on the subject.