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Tim Challies

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9 years 2 months ago

It strikes me often how life is cyclical; how things I wrestle with and ponder and pray about will come to the forefront of my life and faith a month or a year or two years later. One of the biggest blessings of having a journal (which is often how this site functions for me) is that I can go back and see how I dealt with these things in the past. It is good to see how situations repeat themselves but how my responses may vary with time and Christian experience.

In the past couple of years I’ve often given a lot of thought to the nature and strength of my faith: the things of God in which I have great faith, and those in which I have little faith or even no faith at all. These times of reflection has been both a delight and a sorrow; a joy and an embarrassment.

I have seen that my faith can be pictured as something like a line graph. Certain points along the x-axis are very high along the y-axis and, I trust, almost unshakable. I believe, for example, that God exists. This is a faith that God has placed in my heart and I do not believe that it can be shaken, or at least surely not destroyed. I never struggle with whether or not God exists. Beside that there are other high points in my faith: the Bible is God’s Word to us and is inerrant; God has saved me and adopted me into His family; God loves me; there is a heaven; Jesus Christ died to take the penalty of my sin. These are all areas in which I have a good deal of faith and I praise God for this.

As we travel down the x-axis, down towards the long tail (that portion of the graph which skirts the 0 on the x-axis, but doesn’t quite reach it), we come to areas where my faith is not quite so strong. Here we will find my belief that God truly does desire to bring me the best through adversity. Here we will find my belief that God does hear and answer prayer. These are things I believe, but without the strength of conviction of those I listed earlier. They are areas where I tend to see emotion come into conflict with knowledge—with what I know to be true but often don’t accept as truth.

This gentle slope continues almost until the line almost touches against the x-axis, the place where my faith seems to just run out. It just stops. Just like that we come to the edge of my faith and are left with those areas where my faith is vague and distant and shows little conviction. I know certain things are true in my head, but my heart rebels. And what is lurking down here? The one thing I’ve found through all my heart-searching is the faith that God will take care of my family if I cannot; that He can do far better at taking care of them than I can. You see, I desire heaven. I truly do want to be in heaven and to see an end to this life which is so filled with pain and discomfort and all manner of things that will be absent in heaven. I do desire to be with the Lord and know that this desire is healthy. Yet I must desire it just a little less than I desire to stay right here. And the principle reason for this, I’m convinced, is that I don’t trust God with my family.

I know that if I were to go to heaven I would leave my family here without me. Aileen would be left without a husband and my children would be left without their daddy. And who would take care of them? Who would support the family financially, bringing in the money to buy food and clothing? Who would put a roof over their heads? Who would continue my work in teaching my son to play baseball and who would tell my daughter she looks beautiful when she puts on her favorite pink dress and spins across the room? Who would cuddle and tickle the baby every morning? Who would make sure the doors are locked and quietly assure the children that “daddy is here, everything will be alright?”

I have given my family to God. I have said to God that He is free to do what He wills with them and I will accept His decision. And I’ve meant it, as much as I can. Of course I know that God is not dependent on me in this way, but it was a faith-building exercise for me. Likewise I have given Him my life, begging Him to live in and through me and to use me however He sees fit, even if that means bringing me home to Himself. But despite my pleas and despite my apparent faith in His goodness, I am still not ready to leave my family. Maybe in my head I am, but certainly not in my heart.

I guess what it comes down to is the harsh truth that I trust God with my life, but not with theirs. I trust that He will provide for them, but only through me. The hypocrisy in my heart is terrible, I know. Somehow I believe that God needs me to take care of my family. Somehow I believe that He will provide for them, but yet I don’t believe He can or will do it apart from me. Somehow I must believe that I am the one taking care of them.

But there must be a second factor at work here. I must also have too low a view of heaven. If all that God has revealed about heaven is true, and I believe it is, I ought to desire it more than anything. I should feel the same anticipation as the apostles who spoke continually about their hope being not in this life, but in the life to come. It is clear to me that I am basking in temporary, fleeting pleasures that are merely a shadow of what is to come, and enjoying these so much I am not looking forward to the real thing. I am licking my lips in anticipation of the crumbs that will fall under the table rather than anticipating the great feast that is to come.

And I guess the third factor is that I do not, in my heart of hearts, trust the church to fulfill its role in caring for the orphan and the widow. Sure they would be there initially and for a few weeks the freezer would be stuffed full of macaroni casseroles, but my faith does not extend to six or eight months down the road when I have long since been forgotten and the deepest loneliness sets in to the family.

So this is my confession based on much reflection. It is almost embarrassing to write about this. It is humiliating to come to the edge of my faith. Yet I trust that with His help He and I will be able to push the edge of my faith further up that slope. And God is good to reassure me, even through the very people I am so hesitant to leave. Just yesterday afternoon my daughter turned to me, completely out of the blue, and said, “Daddy, I don’t have to be scared if I wake up at night because God is holding my hand. It says in the Bible that God holds us in the palm of His hand. God will always take care of me.” What joy it brought to my heart to hear that simple expression of my daughter’s fledgling faith that there is a God and that He cares. And somewhere, somehow, despite the rebellion of my heart, I know that He will protect them no matter what, with or without my help.

9 years 5 months ago

When I take the time to do some edits to these live-blogged articles I often notice how often it is that speakers change from “me” to “you” to “us.” When I run through these articles I see this all the time and am tempted to change it, but generally choose to leave things just as they are. So if you see me go from first person to second person to third person, chances are that is just the way the speaker spoke. And now you’ll start looking for it!

One other quick note: when I go to conferences I often challenge whoever accompanies me to guess how long it will take before we sing “In Christ Alone.” We usually guess by sessions (i.e. “I guess it will be in the third worship session” or “I guess it will be in the fifth worship session.”). It took us until the fifth worship session at this conference, but that has now given this song the distinction of being the only one that has been sung at each of the six conferences I’ve attended this year. It is possible that “Amazing Grace” has also been featured at all of them, but I don’t think it has been.

This afternoon we had the privilege of hearing John Piper preach. And best of all, he preached the message that has been at the very foundation of everything he has said and written since his ministry began: that the deepest pleasures for God are pleasures in God. It went something like this:

He began with a seven question discernment test. The first five answers were universal and the final two personal.

Who is the most God-centered person in the universe? God.

Who is uppermost in God’s affections? God.

Is God an idolator? No.

What is God’s chief jealousy? To be known and admired and trusted and obeyed above all others.

What is the chief end of God? To glorify God and enjoy Himself forever.

Do you feel most loved by God because He makes much of you or because He frees you to make much of Him forever?

Are you God-centered because God is supremely valuable to you or are you God-centered because you believe you are supremely valuable to Him?

People bristle at what Piper is about to say—about this message he has been preaching for so many years. He has found that there is a way of looking at the truth that stirs up people’s sediment of pride. The root of pride is not severed without seeing that God keeps the first commandment to love God above all else. The root of pride is not seen until we know that God does everything to the glory of God. It is not until we know that God sees Christ as supremely valuable and until we really like it that God has no other gods before Him and that He alone is God in His own eyes.

He will argue from the Bible that God is supremely valuable to God and that there is no more God-centered person in the world. Jonathan Edwards, as you probably know, was the one who opened his eyes to this. If God does an illumining work so you see this, you’ll never read the Bible in the same way and you’ll see this everywhere in the Bible.

First Piper walked us through the Bible, taking the high points of redemptive history to see what God says about what He does. The answer is always the same: that He does it for His glory. He did this under six headings:

Predestination - Ephesians 1:5-6 – “God predestined us…unto the praise of the glory of His grace.” As clear as day it says that God’s design in your predestination is His glory.

Creation – Isaiah 43:6-7 – “Everyone whom I created for my glory.” Everything is made to make God look good and for the display of His glory. We are to magnify Him like a telescope (which makes huge things look more like they really are), not a microscope (which makes small things look big).

Incarnation – Romans 15:8-9 – “Christ became a servant…to glorify God for His mercy.” You get the mercy and He gets the glory. The reason for His mercy is to bring glory to Himself. The ultimate integrating motif of the Bible is the glory of God (and not, as so many believe, the love of God).

Propitiation – Romans 3:25-26 – Paul says that if God is to pass over sins the Son of God has to die in order to demonstrate His righteousness. The problem is in verse 23: “all have sin and fallen short of the glory of God.” And now we’re back to glory again. Sin is an attitude or action that belittles the glory of God, making a choice that can only be explained that we value something else more than the glory of God. Sin is something you do when you don’t treasure God’s glory as you should. You trample His glory in your simple preference for something else. God could not just pass this over or He would be unrighteous. There are only two ways that God can vindicate the worth of His glory: by sending you to hell or by accepting Christ’s death on your behalf. So there, right in the center of the gospel message, is God’s God-centeredness.

Sanctification – Philippians 1:9-11 – This is a prayer in which Paul asks God to do something in accord with His own designs. He prays that people’s love may abound so that they may be filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ to the praise and the glory of God. Paul asks that God would pursue His own glory. He asks that we may be sanctified unto the praise and glory of His name.

Consummation – 2 Thessalonians 1:9 – Jesus is returning to be glorified in His saints and to be marveled at among all who have believed. He is coming to be glorified and to be magnified. That is why He is coming, ultimately. There are other things He will do, but this is the ultimate.

We could spend another hour doing this but these suffice to show that God does everything for the ultimate reason of bringing glory to Himself. In everything He does He is exalting Himself.

There are some biblical reasons that a person might squirm at this. The most obvious is that this doesn’t sound loving, since, after all, “love does not seek its own.” But we can’t just write off all of these texts. There are other understandings of “love does not seek its own.” It is not wrong for God to seek His own glory in saving sinners. Many people believe God would be morally defective to demand worship. So what is the answer to God’s God-centeredness being morally defective? The answer is that we define love in the wrong way. We define love, morality, to mean being made much of. “You make much of me and I will like the way you love me.” But this is not the Bible’s definition.

Here is what love means in the Bible: love labors, plans, suffers to enthrall the beloved with what is totally and eternally satisfying. It is a heart commitment to plan and labor and suffer and if necessary to die to enthrall the beloved with that which will totally and eternally satisfy their soul. That’s love! Here’s the catch: God is the one being in the universe who, to do that, must be self-exalting. If God plays a mock humility He would be hateful and cruel. He would withdraw from us and bury the one thing that will satisfy our souls totally and forever, namely, Himself! This is not a morally defective God. This is not an unloving God. God is the one being for whom the highest virtue is self-exaltation is the most loving act because in exalting Himself he offers to me the one thing that will satisfy my soul forever and ever and ever.

Piper shared the mission statement for his church (which also happens to be his personal mission statement): “We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.” Some people have asked, “Where is love for people in there?” This mission statement is the definition of love for people. The church exists to spread a passion for the supremacy of God means that it exists to love. What else would people want to do other than to enthrall people with God’s supremacy in everything forever in Christ? What more can be added except practical outworkings of how one might display that passion. The essence of God’s love is to do whatever He has to do to make Himself our joy and satisfaction.

So here was his closing exhortation: Do not, in your quest to be a discerning generation, begrudge God’s God-centeredness. If life has taught Piper anything it’s that this truth is like true north in his life’s compass. He does not have answers to many, many questions but it is amazing how to have one good, clear, solid, true north in your compass sheds light on anything. Does this behavior conform to this reality of God’s pervasive and eternal God-centeredness? Does it conform to the meaning of the love of God of spending Himself at the cost of His Son’s life to save me for His glory?

I’ll be back in a few hours when Piper takes to the pulpit again.

9 years 10 months ago
There are some books I can read in an evening or two and feel like I have a good grasp of what the book is all about. There are others that I can pour over hour after hour and still feel like I am only scratching the surface of the book. Evangelical Hermeneutics falls into the latter category. Though not an easy read, this book is rewarding.

Hermeneutics is one of the steps used in interpreting and studying the Bible. Specifically, the author defines it as “a set of principles for interpreting the Bible.” Once a passage has been properly interpreted, meaning and application can be drawn from it. It stands to reason that if the principles of interpretation are wrong, the meaning and application are likely to be wrong as well. What the author seeks to show is how these principles have changed over the past decades and the effect that is having on Christianity today.

The author’s goal for this book is fourfold:

  • To discuss the recent changes in recent hermeneutics
  • To show new meanings being attached to grammatical-historical interpretation
  • To compare traditional grammatical-historical interpretation with new evangelical hermeneutics
  • To identify the dominant principles of new evangelical hermeneutics

Robert Thomas believes strongly in the value of the traditional form of hermeneutics, known as the grammatical-historical method. Throughout the books he cites examples of modern theologians who have either wrongly applied grammatical-historical principles or have invented new methods of hermeneutics. More importantly, he shows the effects these people have had on the Christian world. He focuses specifically on several issues: feminism, open theism, missiology, theonomy and a few others. One of the more fascinating chapters deals with dynamic equivalence (which is a method of Bible translation) and how it is not as much a method of translation as a set of hermeneutical principles. Some of the other topics that caught my attention were preunderstanding and the New Testament use of the Old Testament.

There are several applications to my life and my faith that I have taken from this book. First, it has solidified my understanding of the principle of single meaning, which states that each passage in the Bible has one and only one meaning. Second, it has helped me see the value of the grammatical-historical method. Though this is the system I have adhered to in the past, I am now more confident that it is the most Scriptural method. Third, I see the importance of removing all possible preunderstanding before I examine a text. What I mean by this, is if I am going to examine what the Bible says about the role of women in ministry, I need to look at the passages to determine what they mean, not what they say about women’s roles. It is a subtle but important difference. Finally, I have come to understand more clearly the Holy Spirit’s role in helping me understand the Bible.

I can’t deny that at times I felt lost in this book, primarily because the book presupposes a greater grasp of hermeneutics than I currently have. The other reason is that it spends a lot of time discussing the end-times and that is not a topic I have studied in great depth. The author also tends to use words without fully defining them. An example is the word “meaning” which he defines as “the author’s truth intention.” “Truth intention” is not a phrase I am familiar with, though perhaps if I was more familiar with hermeneutics I would be.

I would recommend this book to anyone seeking to understand how Scripture is supposed to be used. Realize, though, that it does help to have a solid understanding of hermeneutics before reading it. I suspect I will be returning to this book often as I study the Word.

9 years 11 months ago

At long last, the ESV Reverse Interlinear New Testament has become available. What is a Reverse Interlinear Bible, you ask? The Preface answers well. “A conventional interlinear New Testament provides an English translation directly below each Greek word in a Greek New Testament. This tool is called an interlinear because the English words are placed between the lines of Greek.” Though remarkably helpful tools, interlinears do have one weakness. “Since the English words are merely translations of individual Greek words, the English words are out of grammatical word order, do not constitute any particular translation, and cannot easily be read. Their only use is as a reference. This is not to say that conventional interlinear New Testaments should not be used. One simply must be aware of their purpose and limitations.” “A reverse interlinear displays an English translation as the primary text and then weaves the corresponding Greek words between the English lines. So the word order of the English translation is untouched, but the Greek words are rearranged to correspond with the English. This means that the English lines are readable and the text can be used as a working everyday English New Testament.”

Because the Greek language is not as dependent as English on word order, the Greek text is still readable. Take a look at the sample below:


In this passage (1 John 4:1) you can see that the English text remains perfectly intact. By way of comparison, my KJV interlinear (conventional, not reverse) renders the English “Beloved, not every spirit believe, but prove the spirits, if of God they are; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” While still readable, the Greek takes priority over the English.

You will have noticed that the text has five lines. The first is the English Standard Version translation, of course, and that is followed by the corresponding Greek words, the Greek transliteration (a guide to help in correctly pronouncing the Greek words), the Greek parsing code (grammatical descriptions of the word) and the Strong’s number.

The book’s Preface outlines several benefits to using a Reverse Interlinear:

For the layperson or pastor who has never learned Greek, a reverse interlinear provides an inductive access to the original language of the New Testament. Everyone has a favorite English Bible translation. Not only do most people tend to memorize Scripture in one translation, they normally read out of just one Bible because they become familiar with the locations of verses and passages on particular pages. Those who choose to use a reverse interlinear as their day-to-day Bible, in addition to learning the locations of particular verses, will become familiar with repeated Greek vocabulary and phrases that underlie the English translation. Furthermore, this particular reverse interlinear does not merely attempt to connect English vocabulary with Greek vocabulary, it associates English and Greek syntax, allowing the reader to compare multiple word constructions in the two languages.

There are many kinds of clauses and phrases in both languages. To produce a finished English translation, the structures of these phrases and clauses are often mixed and matched. For example, the English Standard Version often translates Greek participial phrases (e.g., “running into the house”) with a conjunction and an indicative verb (e.g., “and he ran into the house”). Using this interlinear, one doesn’t need to learn the meaning of all of those grammatical terms to get a feel for how Greek is used at the phrase and clause level. This is a helpful advantage over a system that simply aligns vocabulary words. This broader understanding of both languages can be gained inductively over time simply by reading one’s favorite English translation while noticing the underlying Greek.

For those who need to refresh their Greek skills or who have just finished a beginning course in Greek, this reverse interlinear can sharpen those skills and advance their fluency in the language. It is not uncommon for a person who knows some Greek to use a conventional interlinear as a tool to translate parts of the New Testament. However, in many places where translations are not woodenly literal, a conventional interlinear does not provide any guidance for connecting the Greek to the reader’s favorite English translation. Many English words in our favorite translations are left unaccounted for, and the reader is left wondering where the translation came from. This also happens when people who know some Greek translate the Greek New Testament alongside their English Bible. It isn’t long before these students start seeing English words in their translation that are difficult to account for, and they have no idea where to look to find the answers.

This grammatically oriented reverse interlinear provides the answers by showing exactly which Greek words and phrases produced the difficult English. Students immediately see which Greek words produced the English, and by using the parsing information they can look up the corresponding grammatical information in their favorite Greek grammars. If you are more inductively oriented, you can just take note of the Greek lexical and grammatical information as you read your favorite translation and gradually get a feel for how the Greek is translated. Every English word is connected to the Greek. You are not left on your own to determine where the English came from.


Further along in the Preface, the authors outline the most important benefit of having access to the original languages, even to those with little training. “The primary benefit of working in the original biblical languages is noticing structural patterns and word play. Good translations correctly conveying the original meaning in good English style obscure these. Often the original Greek repeats words or structures that help to identify a contrast or forcibly present a paradox. Such repetition is not as common in good English style, so these structural clues are often obscured by translations, which primarily attempt to render meaning rather than structure.”

As one with rudimentary Greek skills (based on only one year of Greek while I was in college a decade ago) I have found the Reverse Interlinear remarkably helpful in helping me track down the meaning and usage of words in the original language. I have been using both the New Testament and the Old Testament for some time now through Logos Bible Software and they have proven almost indispensable to me in my research projects. I am glad to now have a printed New Testament I can carry with me.

This Reverse Interlinear New Testament is a resource that will surely prove beneficial to anyone who is or who wishes to be a student of the original language of the New Testament. If you are interested in learning more, you can read the Preface and Introduction and view a full sample page.

10 years 2 days ago
God’s Bestseller is the second biography of Tyndale I have read this year and one of only a few produced in recent decades. Written by Brian Moynahan, the subtitle provides a glimpse of the author’s emphases: “William Tyndale, Thomas More, and the Writing of the English Bible—A Story of Martyrdom and Betrayal.” Less-scholarly than David Daniell’s William Tyndale: A Biography, God’s Bestseller is also more readable, as evidenced by the Mail on Sunday’s endorsement which suggests it is “almost worthy of LeCarre.”

Though William Tyndale died almost 500 years ago, we continue to read and enjoy his Bible. The first man to translate Scripture into English, much of Tyndale’s language and vocabulary continue to used commonly within the church and without. He coined words and phrases such as My brother’s keeper, passover and scapegoat. Other commonly used phrases include let there be light, the powers that be, my brother’s keeper, the salt of the earth and a law unto themselves. His mastery of English, though the language was still in its infancy, was unparalleled in his age. “In the begynnynge was the worde, and the worde was with God: the the word was God. The same was in the begynnynge with God. All thinges were made by it and with out it was made nothinge that was made. In it was lyfe and the lyfe was the lyght of men. And the light shyneth in the darknes but the darknes comprehended it not.” Those verses passed into the King James and subsequent translations almost untouched.

Tyndale’s mastery of the language is evident in passages of Scripture he was able to translate only in part before his untimely death. Read aloud these passages from Song of Solomon as they were written by Tyndale and then by the writers of the King James. “Up and haste my love, my dove, my bewtifull and come away…” The King James renders this same passage with far less skill, “Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.” Tyndale writes, “For now is wynter gone and the rayne departed and past.” The King James bumbles, “For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over, and gone.” The cadence, the use of language, is unmatched. We can only imagine how Tyndale would have rendered the Psalms, Job and other poetic books had he been granted long life.

But as we know, Tyndale was not able to complete his translation of the Old Testament. He did not write his own epitaph as was the custom at the time. But as Moynahan points out, a passage he left from 1 Corinthians seems to serve well: “ ‘And though I gave my body even that I burned, and yet had no love, it profiteth me nothing.’ That used love and not charity was technical evidence of his heresy, of course, and the prime reason why More wanted him brunt. But Tyndale did not die for charity; he died for love, for the love of God’s words and of their readers, and the most familiar work in the English language is thereby given the added grace of being a labour of love.” We see this love evident in his reply to Henry VIII when offered safe passage to his native England. Were Henry to grant even a bare text of Scripture to the common people, Tyndale promised, “I shall immediately make faithful promise never to write more, nor abide two days in these parts after the same: but immediately to repair unto his realm, and there most humbly submit myself at the feet of his royal majesty, offering my body to suffer what pain or torture, yea, what death his grace will, so this be obtained. And till that time, I will abide the asperity of all chances, whatsoever shall come, and endure my life in as many pains as it is able to bear and suffer.” The king would never submit to so audacious a demand and soon decreed that Tyndale be hunted down and killed. Though agents of Henry were never able to find Tyndale, he did eventually fall into the hands of the church authorities and was put to death. His last words, soon to be a rallying cry for English Protestants, were near-prophetic. “Oh Lord, open the King of England’s eyes,” he cried. Only a few short years later, Henry authorized an English translation of the Bible and, ironically, one based largely on the work of Tyndale.

Tyndale’s name may not be widely known, but his influence is still felt. “Tyndale’s traces are everywhere, of course. ‘That old tongue, with its clang and its flavour,’ as the critic Edmund Wilson wrote of the Bible, ‘that we have been living with all our lives,’ is Tyndale’s tongue. Its cadence, its rolling and happy phrases, its consolations and the elegance of its solace, are his.”

Despite his influence and his importance to the development of the English language, Tyndale is relatively unknown to both Christians and non-Christians. It is to our detriment that we forget about this great man of faith who gave his life for his conviction that the Word of God must go forth and must be made available in the common tongue. Moynahan’s biography is an excellent introduction to Tyndale’s life and influence. It is written in a way that will appeal to any reader, it still conveys a great deal of information and is clearly the result of meticulous research. It is one of the best biographies I have read this year and I commend it to you.

10 years 2 months ago

This evening’s session, the fifth general session of the conference, was primarily a time of singing and worship. I have attempted to capture an account of the evening’s events that those who have never attended a Sovereign Grace event may be able to understand how they worship.

The evening began with “Come Now Almighty King” and soon transitioned to a Valley of Vision video featuring the prayer “Spiritus Sanctus.”

Awe in God’s Presence:

We sang “Holy, Holy, Holy” a cappella and then listened to the reading of Isaiah 6:1-8 as a prelude to a time of repentance.

Acknowledge that Sin Cannot Exist in God’s Presence:

This was a time of repentance and confession, both corporate and personal. There was a time of silence where we searched our own hearts and asked God to reveal our sin to us. We then sang “The Precious Blood” and were led in prayer by Craig Cabaniss who thanked God for His mercy in Christ.

Gratefulness for Jesus, Our Access Into God’s Presence:

The vocalists read Hebrews 4:14-16, Ephesians 2:13-18 and Hebrews 10:19-22 which reminded us that we have access into God’s presence only through Jesus Christ. We followed these Scriptures with “I Come By The Blood” and “Jesus Thank You.” There was then a time of spontaneous group singing where Bob encouraged each person to sing his own song to the Lord. While I love to hear 1000 voices sing a single song to the Lord, it was equally stirring to hear 1000 voices sing 1000 songs to Him.

Prayer for God’s Active Presence in My Life:

Bob began this section by stating he had been led to sing a prophetic song for the women in the audience named Katie. He asked all the Katies presence to come to the front and he sang a song for them, the theme of which was to encourage them and to direct them to the Word as the source of God’s voice.

Shannon Harris sang a new song, “Who Made Me To Know You” and Scripture verses were read between each of the verses. There was then a time of individual prayer where we were to ask God’s Spirit to be working in and through our lives. Bob asked us to consider where we desire God to be more active in our lives: “Holiness? Purity? Boldness? Resisting temptation? Faithfulness? Prayer? Hearing and responding to His voice?” Again, there was a time of spontaneous worship based around a chorus which said, “Come Holy Spirit, glorify Jesus in me.” A few people delivered words from the Lord centered around images they felt He impressed on their minds. Bob and another gentlemen felt that God wanted to heal those with migraines, arthritis and lower-body pain. People with such infirmities raised their hands and were soon surrounded by those sitting closeby who laid hands on them and prayed that God would heal them. After “There is a Redeemer,” we broke into groups of just three or four people, each of which prayed for the local churches represented by the men and women in that group. We were to pray for them to actively pursue the presence of God in their midst.

Prayer for God’s Active Presence in my Local Church and the World:

The final portion of this evening’s service began with a time of spontaneous prayer for the church. It was then time to pray for the worldwide church and people from six nations read the first three verses of Psalm 67 in their native languages. “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!” It was read by natives of Ethiopia, Kenya, Guatemala, Japan, Korea and Australia (What happened to Canada!?). How good it was to hear God’s name praised in five different languages! When they had prayed, we recited the Lord’s Prayer in unison and closed a wonderful evening of worship with “Let Your Kingdom Come,” a new song written by Bob Kauflin.

And now we look forward to an hour-long concert by Keith Getty, Kristyn Getty, and the church’s band.

10 years 3 months ago

The Da Vinci Code, until recently the talk of the Christian world, seems to have rapidly become yesterday’s news. Though the book continues to sell and the film continues to draw, Christians seem to have lost interest. That is often the way things are in the church these days. Christians seems to react quickly and enthusiastically to a perceived threat, but these threats soon fade and Christians move on to other things. While many of these threats are merely perceived, some are genuine and have the potential to draw people away from the faith.

Reinventing Jesus seeks to answer the common lies and misconceptions that lie at the heart of most attempts to discredit the Christian understanding of Jesus. It is a collaborative effort between J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer and Daniel B. Wallace, all of whom are graduates of Dallas Theological Seminary. While it was published, not entirely coincidentally, I’m sure, around the same time as The Da Vinci Code hit the big screen, it is wider in scope than merely responding to Dan Brown’s many spurious claims. For as the authors say, “Attempts to reinvent Jesus are nothing new. The vines of radical skepticism toward the biblical Christ have been creeping up the walls of the ivory tower for two centuries.” While this is certainly true, the authors also state that “only in recent years has such intense cynicism sprouted at the grassroots. And it has spread quickly.” These new and radical versions of Jesus have been widely promoted through the media so that the average person no longer has a strong conviction of what is true and what is false. “Distrust spawned in the media has taken firm root in our postmodern society, where the quest for truth has been replaced by a convenient tolerance for every idea. ‘That’s just your interpretation!’ has become the tired mantra of hurried people who can’t be bothered by a thoughtful evaluation of evidence. It’s simply easier to pretend all interpretations are created equal.” We now live in the midst of a culture of cynicism where we have all been conditioned to doubt.

And yet, there are some things that are true. And what’s more, they are verifiably true. Reinventing Jesus is an attempt to bring assurance where there has been doubt. Written to appeal to the motivated layperson, this book does not attempt to answer every reinvention of Jesus. Instead, the “primary objective is to build a positive argument for the historical validity of Christianity.” The authors build a progressive case which they feel both undermines the attempts to reinvent Jesus and underscores the enduring essence of the Christian faith. The case is built on the following questions:

  • If the first Gospels were written decades after the life of Jesus, how do we know the writers got the story right?
  • If the writers got the story right, how do we know the Gospels and other New Testament documents were copied faithfully? In other words, is what we have now the same as what the authors wrote?
  • If the writers got the story right and the documents were copied faithfully, how can we be certain that the right documents were included in the Bible? How did the church decide which books to include and was the early church rife with conspiracies to suppress certain books?
  • If the writers got the story right, the documents were copied faithfully and the right documents were included in Scripture, what does this tell us about the earliest belief in Jesus? Did his original followers view Him as more than a man, or was His divinity a later addition to Christianity? Was his divinity merely the invention of a fourth century church council?
  • And finally, if the writers got the story right, the documents were copied faithfully, the right documents were included in Scripture and the Bible reveals the divinity of Jesus, how do we know that Christianity was not simply plagiarized from other religions?

I have not read or seen an attempt to reinvent Jesus that will not be addressed by the answers to these five questions. The Da Vinci Code will be answered particularly in the third and fourth points. Brian Flemming’s ridiculous (and ridiculously popular) film The God Who Wasn’t There will be answered in all five points, but particularly in the fourth and fifth. And Misquoting Jesus, written by Bart Ehrman, will be answered predominantly in the first three points. The Jesus Seminar will be answered, to some extent, in all of them.

The authors build their case logically and forcefully. They are certainly not the first to do this and they have much material to guide and assist them. And ultimately, it is simply not too difficult to prove that the writers of Scripture got the story right, that this story was copied faithfully, that the books of the Bible are the right books, that Jesus was considered divine even by the earliest Christians and that Christianity is not based upon pagan religions. The greater difficulty is in addressing the baseless claims of authors who seek to undermine the historical Jesus and in convincing people that it is possible to know the truth. In all of these areas, the authors do well. They move quickly from one point to the next, never becoming bogged down in details. They consistently write in such a way that a motivated layperson can easily follow their arguments. This book succeeds admirably in what it sets out to do.

Reinventing Jesus is a very good book and one I would not hesitate to recommend to either a believer or an unbeliever. It deals honestly and forthrightly with an increasingly contentious issue. It defends Jesus as we know Him through the Scripture. It defends the Jesus, who, though God, was born a man, and who lived, died, rose and was taken to heaven. It defends the Jesus who saves. It defends the Jesus of the Bible.

10 years 4 months ago
William Tyndale is a hero of mine. If you have read this site for any length of time, you already know this, for just a few weeks ago I reviewed a DVD that featured an interview with David Daniell, a prominent Tyndale expert. Having watched this DVD presentation, and being intruiged by Daniell’s knowledge of his subject, I knew I would have to read his biography of William Tyndale.

Considering the importance of his contribution, both to Christianity and to the English language, there are surprisingly few biographies written about William Tyndale. In the introduction to this biography, Daniell claims that “there has not been a full-scale study of him for nearly sixty years, since J.F. Mozley’s biography of 1937.” This leads him to conclude that “there is need for something more modern, especially as the quincentenary of Tyndale’s birth in 1494 is widely celebrated.” Of course this date passed some twelve years ago, for this volume was printed in 1994. Daniell fills this need with William Tyndale: A Biography.

The outline of Tyndale’s life is well-known. He was, as you may know, a brilliant man who was the first to make and print a translation of the Scriptures from the Greek into English. His translation formed much of the basis for what was to become the King James version. In that way, his work continues to be in use today and is still precious to many believers. Of lesser significance, many of the words and phrases he coined, such as my brother’s keeper, passover and scapegoat are still in use, even five centuries later. He dedicated his life to the great work of translation which eventually totalled all of the New Testament and the first two sections of the Old. He gave his life for the privilege of translating Scripture and was eventually martyred for the “sin” of giving the Scriptures to the common man in a common language. It is a great tragedy that his life was taken before he was able to complete the remaining books of the Old Testament and, in particular Proverbs, Psalms and other books of poetry.

Surprisingly, for a man of his stature, relatively little is known about Tyndale, for he spent many years of his life toiling in secrecy and obscurity. This book represents a compilation and analysis of most of the important facts available to historians. Many gaps remain, but it seems unlikely that we will ever know significantly more than we do today.

Perhaps the best way of describing this biography is “thorough.” This is not a book for the feint-of-heart. While it is only slightly over 400 pages, it is, nonetheless, very thorough and sometimes tough-going. Thankfully, Daniell is a capable writer and he does a very satisfying job of making relevant even what may seem, at first glance, to be mundane. Beyond merely relaying the facts of his subject’s life, the author expends great effort in understanding the sources Tyndale used for his translation and the results of his dependence upon particular texts. He examines particular words and phrases Tyndale chose to use, showing him to be a master communicator with a gift for expressing himself with great clarity. He describes even the religious and social implications that arose because of Tyndale’s work. Truly Tyndale’s influence extended far beyond a simple translation of the Bible.

I was particularly glad to see that Daniell endeavoured to present Tyndale as something more than merely the opponent of Sir Thomas More. Tragically, More has gone down in history as a noble and just man, but the reality is that he was anything but. He proved his lack of character time and again through his bitter hatred of William Tyndale. There is much more to the life of Tyndale than his ongoing confrontations with More and Daniell is careful to document this.

William Tyndale: A Biography was as thorough and interesting a biography as I could hope to read. It was not always easy to read, but it was well worth the effort. I would not hesitate to recommend it.

10 years 4 months ago
The Pocket Guide to the Bible is, according to the subtitle, “a little book about the big book.” It is the third in a series of pocket guides written by Jason Boyett, the first two being The Pocket Guide to Adulthood and The Pocket Guide to the Apocalypse (my review). Like its predecessors, this is a book that is intended both to convey information and provide entertainment (if by entertainment we understand puerile, frat-boy humor, which reminds me that this is as good a time as any to note that if you disliked my review of Mark Driscoll’s Confessions of a Reformission Rev. you may just want to take a pass on this review).

The book begins with a glossary of terms called a “Biblicabulary” and then invests two chapters in defining a “Cast of Characters.” From there Boyett provides a summary of both the Old and New Testaments, an overview of the history of biblical translation and concludes with “Biblical Flotsam and Jetsam”—random and sometimes entertaining facts about the Bible.

The last time I reviewed one of Boyett’s books I wrote, “There were a few times in reading this book where I would laugh out loud, and then catch myself and question if the ends times are really a topic we should make light of. There were other times where I wondered if Boyett had crossed the line between humor and blasphemy. At best I would say there are a few places where he may be towing the line.” In this book I felt more certain that there were times when he crossed the line through deliberate provocation. Here is how he describes the crucifixion of Jesus. “Pilate frees a known criminal named Barabbas and ships Jesus off to be scourged, beaten to a bloody heap, nailed to a chunk of wood and crucified. For additional details, please consult Gibson, Mel.” Surely such an act by the very Son of God deserves greater respect than that! The central idea of Christianity is apparently this: “God is holy. People sin. The holiness/sinfulness divide is a significant one. But then Jesus dies as a big-league atoning sacrifice in place of humanity, and God offers forgiveness to those who have faith in him. The stuff sin screws up? It gets unscrewed. This is pretty much the central idea of Christianity.”

Much of the book’s humor hinges on pseudo off-color phrases and euphemisms. So the adulterous wife of Hosea is a “skanky prostitute who goes through lovers like greasy knife through Velveeta.” The angel Gabriel had the difficult task of telling “some teenage virgin that she’s gotten herself knocked up, spiritually speaking.” Jezebel is a “biblical beeyotch of the first degree.” Using the term fornication in a sentence leads to this: “Just because we did it in the back seat of her Stratus doesn’t mean it was fornication, does it?” And on and on. And on. There is some humor that is more sophisticated, but Boyett predominantly depends on cheap and easy laughs.

While the content of the book is, by and large, quite sound, it does contains a smattering of errors. For example, in the “Biblicabulary,” Boyett defines grace as “The undeserved salvation from original sin, granted to humanity by God through Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection.” Thankfully, grace extends far beyond only original sin to the sins that we commit on a daily basis. Another error was in the “Cast of Characters.” In discussing Abimelech, Boyett writes “Abimelech I [as opposed to the other two Abimelechs in Scripture] is a king of the Philistines who gets it on the Abraham’s wife, Sarah—but only because Abraham lies to him, passing her off as his sister.” But according to the passage of Scripture referenced, Genesis 20, God intervenes and protects Sarah’s purity saying, “I did not let you touch her.” He also contradicts himself, saying in the introduction that Jewish people call refer to the Old Testament as the Torah, but later says that they refer to it as the Tanakah (which is comprised of three sections, only one of which is Torah).

Strangely absent from this book was any discussion of the theology of Scripture. I had expected that even a little book about the big book might discuss issues such as the Bible’s inspiration, authority, sufficiency, inerrancy and so on. But this really is a book dealing primarily with the contents and translation of the Bible. Boyett does drop a few hints as to his perspective on the theology of Scripture. For example, in discussing Jonah he writes, “Luckily, a great fish/whale/allegorical stand-in is there to catch him, and Jonah spends three squishy days in Moby’s belly before repenting.” He discusses the book of 1 Timothy, writing “Oh, and one more thing: don’t allow any women to hold positions of authority, because ladies ought to be silent in church. Huh. Two out of three ain’t bad.” In discussing Judas he mentions that Judas commits suicide by hanging himself and in a footnote adds, “At least he hangs himself in the Matthew suicide reference. Acts 1:18-20 tells a different story. Here Judas buys a field with his dirty money, then falls down in the same field so hard that his body splits open and his intestines ooze out. The Pocket Guide prefers this death sequence, if only for its exquisite goriness.” While he is not clear about his understanding of exactly what the Bible is, one can read between the lines here and have good basis for concern.

I am uncertain as to what Boyett intends as the audience for this book. While I am sure there are some who would advocate giving it to unsaved friends or family, I would certainly hesitate to do so. It is, after all, vague on exactly what our understanding of Scripture ought to be. And, of course, it is irreverent and somewhat profane. I am guessing that the most natural audience is the kind of person who reads and enjoys Relevant Magazine. The Pocket Guide is, after all, published by Relevant Books.

The back cover proclaims that this is a “handy, hip reference to the world’s all-time best seller.” I suppose it is handy and hip. It’s also quite funny. But I’m not so sure that it’s worth your time or money. A few days ago I was speaking to someone within Ligonier ministries who assured me that R.C. Sproul would far rather have people ignore his books and read the original sources from which he draws so much of his theology: Calvin, Augustine, Edwards and so on. I can’t help but think the reader would be far more blessed to pass over the first 188 pages of Boyett’s book and skip straight to the bibliography. There he will find a list of books that will prove far more interesting and edifying. In particular, he may want to consider buying a copy of Ryken’s Bible Handbook. He won’t laugh as much in reading it, but he will surely learn far more.

I am reminded of some wise words of Richard Baxter who said “It is not the reading of many books which is necessary to make one wise, but the well-reading of a few, could they be sure to have the best.” This book will not make one wise and is certainly not among the best. So why bother?

10 years 6 months ago
Eugene Peterson believes that the way we read the Bible is as important as the very fact that we read the Bible. “Do we read the Bible for information about God and salvation, for principles and ‘truths’ that we can use to live better? Or do we read it in order to listen to God and respond in prayer and obedience?” To address these questions, Peterson brings us Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading. It is a rather strange and wandering book in which Peterson meanders through a wide variety of topics having to do with the theme of Scripture. At heart, though, the book is an attempt to convince the reader of the importance of reading Scripture in order to promote life change. Peterson feels this is best done through the ancient practice of lectio divina. In many respects, then, this book is a beginner’s guide to that practice.

In his wanderings, Peterson covers three main topics. He first discusses the impetus for this book and his choice of a title. He discusses “Scripture as form,” looking at the Bible as both story and sentence. He encourages the reader to read the Bible in a way that is spiritually affecting and is more than the mere absorption of words and phrases.

Having laid the foundation, Peterson provides an overview of lectio divina. He breaks the practice into its component parts: lectio, or reading; meditatio or meditation which keeps the memory active in the act of reading; oratio or prayer in which we respond to God; and contemplatio or contemplation in which we live out what we have read, meditated upon and prayed. Throughout the book Peterson suggests that lectio divina is a biblical practice and one that has been practiced since the dawn of the church. This is not strictly true, as it is the product of a particular form of Christianity: Catholic mysticism. The way Peterson presents it is quite innocuous, almost as if he is deliberately avoiding the deeper practices and even potential problems associated with it. If everyone who practiced lectio divina did so just as he lays it out, it would be a practice I would heartily endorse. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Peterson does little to help the reader understand that this is a practice more associated with Catholic mysticism than with Protestantism. Many of the most notable teachers of lectio divina would lead readers into practices that are unbiblical.

In the final section the book takes an unexpected turn into a discussion of translation philosophy, especially as it pertained to Peterson’s task of translation in The Message. In a section entitled “Caveat Lector” (or “let the reader beware”), Peterson shows concern with the response that the Scriptures are to evoke in us. “The words printed on the pages of my Bible give witness to the living and active revelation of the God of creation and salvation, the God of love who became the Word made flesh in Jesus, and I had better not forget it. If in my Bible reading I lose touch with this livingness, if I fail to listen to this living Jesus, submit to this sovereignty, and respond to this love, I become arrogant in my knowing and impersonal in my behavior. An enormous amount of damage is done in the name of Christian living by bad Bible reading” (page 82). This shows, I think, that Peterson is genuinely concerned with how Christians read the Bible. He realizes that, when read with an impure heart or out of poor motives, the Bible can be used to cause all manner of harm. Great damage has been done by those who know the words of the Bible best. Satan himself knows and quotes the Bible. But is the problem with the Bible or with the reader?

Peterson further voices this concern in a metaphor. “The Christian community is as concerned with how we read the Bible as that we read it. It is not sufficient to place a Bible in a person’s hands with the command, ‘Read it.’ That is as foolish as putting a set of car keys in an adolescent’s hands, giving him a Honda, and saying, ‘Drive it.’ And just as dangerous. The danger is that in having our hands on a piece of technology, we will use it ignorantly, endangering our lives and the lives of those around us; or that, intoxicated with the power that the technology gives us, we will use it ruthlessly and violently” (page 81). I do not feel that this is a fair parallel. I know of people, and you probably do as well, who have been simply handed a Bible and been told to read it. They read and were changed. They read and were saved. There is a vast difference between an adolescent who takes the wheel of a car and a man or woman who is given a Bible. While I appreciate Peterson’s concern, what he fails to take into account is the fact that the Holy Spirit works through Scripture as the primary means of changing lives. The metaphor that compares a Bible to a car and an adolescent to a reader is simply not fair or accurate. It gives far too little credit to the work of the Holy Spirit.

It is possible that Peterson feels that the Scriptures are somehow a little bit deficient? That they are not the best way that God could have revealed Himself to us? “There is a sense in which the Scriptures are the word of God dehydrated, with all the originating context removed—living voices, city sounds, camels carrying spices from Seba and gold from Ophir snoring down in the bazaar, fragrance from lentil stew simmering in the kitchen—all now reduced to marks on thin onion-skin paper” (page 88). While this is true, at least to some extent, what Peterson fails to mention is that this is exactly how God intended to give us the Scriptures. God never refers to His Word as “dehydrated” or in any way deficient. Yes, we need to invest time and effort in knowing, studying and understanding them, but we do so knowing that the Scriptures, exactly as they are, are just what God desired that we have. Any fault we perceive in them is a fault within us.

In these three quotations, three of a number I could have referred to, I think we see an important piece of the puzzle that led to The Message. Eugene Peterson feels that the equation of person plus Bible can lead to all manner of hurt and pain and destruction. This is, in many cases, true. Yet it seems, as we will see, that Peterson’s solution is to change the Bible rather than to focus on the people. The Bible is good and perfect and true. It is the people who cause the trouble.

In a chapter entitled “God’s Secretaries,” Peterson examines Nehemiah 8 where the Israelites, having just rediscovered the Scriptures, stand before Ezra as he reads them to the assembly. And as he reads, select Levites “give the sense” of the passages. “ ‘Gave the sense,’” he says, “did more than merely provide dictionary equivalents to the words that were being read that day. The Levites’ interpretive translation work engaged the lives, the hearts and souls, not just the minds, of the people: at first they wept and then they rejoiced ‘because they had understood the words that were declared to them’ (Neh. 8:9-12). This is the intended end of true translation, to bring about the kind of understanding that involves the whole person in tears and laughter, heart and soul, in what is written, what is said” (page 125). It is interesting and helpful, I think, to compare Peterson’s philosophy of translation to that of the English Standard Version. In the preface to the ESV we read, “The ESV is an ‘essentially literal’ translation that seeks as far as possible to capture the precise wording of the original text and the personal style of each Bible writer. As such, its emphasis is on ‘word-for-word’ correspondence, at the same time taking into account differences of grammar, syntax, and idiom between current literary English and the original languages. Thus it seeks to be transparent to the original text, letting the reader see as directly as possible the structure and meaning of the original.” Note the difference. The ESV seeks, in so far as possible, to bring the original text before the reader. Peterson seeks to bring about the understanding and response of the original reader. The ESV values words while Peterson values response.

We continue with words found almost at the end of the book. Peterson has continued to discuss The Message. He now sets his sights on essentially literal translations, suggesting why he feels they are less useful than a more dynamic translation. “Translation is a complex activity that takes place between a polarity of two questions. The question asked from one pole is, ‘What did she mean?’ ‘What did he say?’ answered strictly on its own terms yields a literal translation. Find the German word equivalent to the English word and that’s it. ‘What did she mean?’ requires an imagination, often a poetic imagination, that brings the ‘world’ of the German text into the ‘world’ of American English…” He quotes Sebastian Brock: “In the case of free translation, it could be said that the original reader is forced to go to the original; or, to put it another way, in the first it is the reader who is stationary, but in the second it is the original” (page 169).

His distaste for literal translation soon becomes more apparent. “In my work as a pastor and writer, teacher and preacher, I began to gather observations and witnesses on the nature of translation, noticing how unsatisfactory ‘literal’ turns out to be and how conveniently it serves as a cover for avoiding the obvious intent of words spoken or written” (page 170). And again, “Preference for the literal has a long life. But I have come to believe that it is an unthinking preference…The language [in a literal translation] is lobotomized—the very quality that gives language its genius, its capacity to reveal what we otherwise would not know, is excised. Extreme literalism insists on forcing each work into a fixed immovable position, all the sentences strapped in a straightjacket” (page 171).

And then, finally, we see exactly what Peterson presented in The Message and why he did so. “[T]he most important question is not ‘What does it say?’ but ‘What does it mean and how can I live it?’ I wanted to gather a company of people together who read personally, not impersonally, who learned to read the Bible in order to live their true selves, not just get information that they could use to raise their standard of living” (page 176).

This philosophy differs substantially from the more literal translations, where emphasis is placed primarily on words, not meaning. With a literal translation we are given, in as much as is possible, access to the original words of Scripture. It is then up to the individual Christian, not a particular class of “translator-interpreters”, to interpret Scripture and to apply it to our lives.

All-in-all, Eat This Book is an interesting read and one that goes a long way to explaining The Message and affirming Peterson’s desire to help others know and understand the Scriptures. Unfortunately, I feel that much of the good may be undone by leading people undiscerningly into contemplative spirituality. While what Peterson teaches is generally sound, he commends the writing and teaching of others who may lead Christians into practices that are far from biblical.