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Shepherd's Conference 2006

August 07, 2007

This is your weekly notification of the reviews I’ve added to Discerning Reader. This week I’ve written four reviews and Scott Lamb has contributed one as well. The reviews are as follows:

From Alister McGrath comes The Dawkins Delusion?, a rather brilliant response to Richard Dawkins’s bestselling The God Delusion which I reviewed last week. McGrath is probably one of the Christians best-suited to write a response and he does not disappoint. If you’ve read The God Delusion be sure to follow it up with this book. It makes an interesting study to read them both back-to-back. Of course I’ve also posted this review here.

Francis Collins’s The Language of God has been raising a lot of attention and ruffling more than a few features. While I’ve written about it here before, I’ve posted a new review of it at Discerning Reader. It really is an enjoyable read, though one that must be approached with a Bible in one hand and this book in the other.

From Al Mohler’s list of recommended summer reading I plucked, among other titles, The Republic of Pirates, the true story of the rise of the Caribbean pirate. Though not the kind of book that is going to change anyone’s life, it makes for an interesting and informative read, bring a touch of realism to a much-misunderstood and much-dramatized era of history. It’s a great choice for vacation reading.

And finally, Girl Soldier is the story of Grace Akallo, who as a young girl was forced into service in Uganda. It is, as we might expect, an ugly story. Unfortunately I found it more than a little disappointing and would recommend one of the other similar books instead.

And from the pen of Scott Lamb comes A Theology for the Church, a new volume edited by Daniel Akin. Scott says, “Dr. Mohler once challenged Christians to have a “thick theology, not a thin theology”. If getting “thick theology” derived from faithful exegesis of Scripture is your desire, then this “thick” book is a great place to begin.”

And that’s it for now. Next week I’ll have a review of the latest book from that prolific church historian Stephen Nichols and will review Misquoting Truth, Timothy Paul Jones’s response to the bestselling Misquoting Jesus.

May 18, 2007

I am working on a new feature for Discerning Reader. Every week I’ll troll through a long list of publishers and bestsellers lists to try to find new or upcoming books that look like they will be of particular interest. Since Discerning Reader isn’t quite ready to handle the column yet, I thought I’d post it here. This is a sample of what the column will look like.

The Pirate Queen: Queen Elizabeth I, Her Pirate Adventurers, and the Dawn of Empire by Susan Ronald
496 Pages
Available July 1, 2007

Claims to be a fresh look at a paradoxical historical figure who continues to fascinate. She played a strange but critical role in the furtherance of Protestantism shortly during the late Reformation.

Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power by Robert Dallek
752 Pages
Available now

This one is written by a prominent historian and deals with a couple of fascinating figures. Sounds promising to me!

God’s Gold: A Quest for the Lost Temple Treasures of Jerusalem by Sean Kingsley
336 Pages
Available June 1, 2007

“God’s Gold explores the fate of the greatest biblical treasure in history, the central icons of the Jewish faith looted from the Temple of Jerusalem.” Sounds like yet another attempt to convince us that someone has found biblical treasures (or is on the very verge of finding them).

The Political Teachings of Jesus by Tod Lindberg
Pages TBA
Available June 15, 2007

The book’s summary is not yet available. But I think we can probably guess.

The Case for the Real Jesus: A Journalist Investigates Current Attacks on the Identity of Christ by Lee Strobel
288 Pages
Available September 30, 2007

Strobel, an unlikely apologist, will continue his “The Case For…” franchise and evaluate the arguments and evidence being advanced by prominent atheists, liberal theologians, Muslim scholars, and others.

Jesus of Nazareth by Joseph Ratzinger
400 Pages
Available now

The new pope’s first book written as pope. I wonder how many meetings it took to decide whether his name or title would appear more prominently on the cover. Ratzinger says “This book is…my personal search ‘for the face of the Lord.’”

Protestant Theology at the Crossroads: How to Face the Crucial Tasks for Theology in the Twenty-First Century by Gerhard Sauter
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
188 Pages
Available now

I haven’t heard of the author before but it sounds like it should, by rights, be interesting.

John Donne: The Reformed Soul: A Biography by John Stubbs
W.W. Norton
576 Pages
Available now

Looks like an interesting biography of a fascinating and important figure. This book has already been widely reviewed in major media outlets and has been reviewed positively.

The Dawkins Delusion?: Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine by Alister E. McGrath and Joanna Collicutt Mcgrath
IVP Books
144 Pages
Available July 30, 2007

Alister and Joanna McGrath take on the grumpy Richard Dawkins and his mega-selling The God Delusion. But will anyone still be reading Dawkins’ book when this one is released?

1-3 John: New Testament Commentary by John MacArthur
Moody Publishers
304 Pages
Available now

The latest entry in MacArthur’s commentary series which is, at long last, nearing completion.

March 06, 2006

There is always something a little bit strange about returning from a conference. When at such a gathering one’s mind is set on a particular topic for a day, two days, five days. And what’s more, there are hundreds or thousands of other people in attendance, all of whom are focused on this same subject. For the duration of the conference a whole group of people are living in a little world nearly all their own - a little world where everyone has the same primary interest, at least for a few days.

For the past few days I, along with 3500 other men, have been thinking about preaching and about the gospel. I’ve been thinking about the challenges that face the church in the years to come and have come to an ever-deeper understanding that it is really only the church that can bring hope to the world. It is only the church that has the answers to our society’s deepest problems. And it is only godly men who can shepherd these churches.

This has been a challenging week. I have had my faith tested and sharpened. I have been challenged by men far more humble and godly and committed and sanctified than I am. I have been challenged to be a better man. A better Christian.

I don’t think I want to be a pastor, and perhaps that is the same as saying that I don’t think that God wants me to be a pastor. I’ve often wondered, you know, whether I should begin some sort of vocational ministry. I have often wondered if I should answer some type of call (whatever the “calling” is that people keep talking about) and become one of these shepherds. But having been privileged to sit through seminar after seminar, session after session, I have come to at least two conclusions.

The first conclusion is that I have a deep love and respect for pastors. Not just any pastors, mind you, but those pastors who are willing to humbly place themselves under the authority of the Word of God and submit themselves wholly, willingly to the ministry of the Word. We need pastors so desperately. Our churches are crying out for them. Christians of all ages, all denominations, are weeping in desperation for men - godly men - to lead them. They are crying aloud for men to lead them into God’s deepest truths. They are groaning in desperation for men to open the Word of God to them.

I have seen so many examples of men and women who are saved and spend a period of time in a church that does not feed them with the Word of God. These people inevitably become hungry. They know instinctively that they are lacking and famished, and may not even know what they hunger for. Yet if that hunger goes without being fed, eventually these people lose the hunger and settle into a spirituality that is based not on sound teaching from the Word but on whatever fad is being passed off as true spirituality. They find purpose and Jabez and their wild hearts, but never receive deep, satisfying teaching from God’s Word.

It is those pastors I most admire who forsake the fads and trends in Christianity and dedicate their ministries to simply teaching the Word. I hope and pray that the thousands of pastors at the Shepherd’s Conference who do just that were blessed and encouraged. I trust they believe in their hearts that faithfulness to God is so much more valuable than the praise of men.

The second conclusion I have reached through this weekend is that I am not going to be one of these pastors. I listened to Steve Lawson exhort pastors to give their lives for the church and felt my heart stir for pastors. I heard the other speakers - John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, Al Mohler, Ligon Duncan - tell us just how badly we need a revival of pastors. I felt their passion, but not for me. My heart cried out for pastors, but I felt no tug. I looked at the priorities and desires and qualifications for these pastors and did not see myself reflected in them.

I don’t think I am cut out to be a pastor. And I think that’s okay. And it’s more than okay - it’s great.

I still want to teach. I still want to do what I can to disciple and teach and equip, but not within the scope of the pastoral ministry. I would do nearly anything to somehow be able to help these pastors do what they do, for there are few people I admire more.

I’m not certain about all of this, of course. But I guess the point is that if I traveled to California with more questions than answers, I seem to have returned with more answers than questions. And for that, I am grateful.

Just before I left the conference I spoke to Phil Johnson one last time and he mentioned that, while all of the Shepherd’s Conferences have been great, this one somehow seemed to have an epic feel to it. I cannot speak for the conferences from past years, but I also felt that this one was extraordinarily powerful and meaningful, not just for myself, but for all those I spoke to. God did some amazing things in and through that assembly of pastors, teachers and men of God. I was blessed to be a part of it.

March 04, 2006

This is the final session of the 2006 Shepherd’s Conference. J. Ligon Duncan, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Jackson, Mississippi and chairman of The Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, will bring us the final address. It is interesting to see that this place has cleared out quite a bit already as clearly many of the pastors have needed to leave early to return for Sunday worship services in their home churches. Chris Taylor, a pastor with whom I enjoyed some wonderful fellowship this week, is one of them. Doug McHone has also already headed home.

I am still not entirely sure what I will do this afternoon. I will head out immediately afterwards to visit a nearby nonprofit organization, but following that I have absolutely no plans. I’m sure I will have a great afternoon and evening before my flight departs at a (revised) time of 11:30 PM.

Duncan’s session will deal with gender. MacArthur suggested, when introducing the speaker, that few Evangelicals are aware of the importance of this issue. I would even suggest that few are even remotely aware that there is an issue! Dr. Duncan is an authority in the area of biblical manhood and womanhood and I look forward to hearing the message he will bring to us today.

Today’s message will show that biblical manhood and womanhood is absolutely essential to discipleship within the local church. You cannot make a Christian disciple without addressing the issues of biblical manhood and womanhood.

Duncan will make five arguments for why this is the case - five reasons why biblical manhood and womanhood is crucial for discipleship. This will be based on Genesis 1 and Ephesians 5. The fundamental justification for the importance of speaking of this topic is more than just that it is part of the whole counsel of God.

Genesis 1:26-31 tells us of the creation of man. In the creation, man and woman, made in the image of God, entailed them being a walking, talking, breathing witness of God. Biblical manhood and womanhood is essential to them fulfilling their responsibility to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. They are reflecting God’s truth. Their roles are essential to imaging and representing God in the world. At the outset of creation manhood and womanhood matters for man to image God in the world - to point to a reality of God. Gender, then, is part of the very reason we were created.

In Genesis 2 we see God saying “it is not good for man to be alone…” The Divine definition of being between one man and woman is rooted in these words, “for this reason.” What reason? Because the Lord God fashioned a rib out of the man, brought her to the man, and said “here is Eve.” Here is the helper that answers the need of fellowship. Marriage is created in the marriage order and.

Ephesians 5 is a well-known passage on this topic. It is an extraordinary passage in many ways. Men often miss the reason they are to love their wives. The job of a husband is to be an instrument in the hands of the Holy Spirit for her sanctification. We are to help prepare our wives to face the Lord. We are to live dying for our wives daily for their sanctification. When you live this out in marriage, you are a living, breathing, walking, talking illustration of union with Christ. You are the picture of the kind of relationship that Christ has with His church and that His church has with Christ. Biblical manhood and womanhood is not just a subcategory of all we do as disciples. Rather, it is an essential of our bearing witness of the sovereign God in this world and our witness of Christ’s redeeming work in the world. It cannot be avoided, ignored or de-emphasized, but needs to be taught, celebrated, expressed, gloried in, advanced, an apologetic must be provided for it, it must be inculcated in the discipleship of the church. Why? There are several reasons:

Our culture is now completely egalitarian and this poses a particular challenge to the church. Christians can no longer be assumed to be instinctively complementarian. On the other hand, we look out at the culture and see even the sons of this age wiser than the next. Another conflicting indicator we get is the infringement of egalitarianism into Evangelicalism. The lines are becoming increasingly blurred so that we now have people claiming to be complementarian egalitarians.

Why is it important to address biblical manhood and womanhood?

Because men and women are different and these differences need to be recognized and taken into account in the course of Christian discipleship: It is glorious to celebrate the differences between men and women. When we say that the roles of men and women are interchangeable, we suppress the truth. The differences between men and women are part of what makes us image bearers of God and should not be apologized for!

If we celebrate biblical manhood and womanhood in the local church, our attitude ought to be vive la difference!”. God made us this way and it is better than any other way. But it is so radical that it needs to be deliberately and specifically inculcated.

Because the Bible teaches so much about biblical manhood and womanhood: People sometimes argue that this is not worth discussing as there are really only six or seven dividing verses. But this issue goes far deeper, as it is rooted in creation and redemption as an essential part of what God is doing in us to display His glory. We can never ignore biblical teaching. A church that wants to be biblical, wants to make sure that women embrace the teaching of Scripture with joy and energy, and that the men will take up their responsibilities with joy and energy.

Because when biblical manhood or womanhood is ignored or not practiced, it results in disasters for marriages and families: More marriages dissolve between the husband and the wife did not embrace biblical teaching on manhood or womanhood than those that dissolve because of adultery. Unbiblical understanding of manhood and womanhood can only lead to chaos and disaster.

Because the issue of manhood and womanhood is at the very heart of the cultural transition we find ourselves in right now: The gender issues are not simply the tip of the iceberg in the cultural mega-shift we are seeing now. This pagan worldview wants to erase the creator-creature distinction. All our problems, they say, can be traced to monotheism. If God created male and female distinct, and in their living together in the roles He prepared for them, they were to image Him as the creator of all creation, and in our marriages we are to image this relationship between God and His people, what better strategy can there be than to erase the male-female relationship as a step to erasing the creator-creation relationship. This is a war plan for Satan to destroy Christianity.

Because it is one of the, if not the way that biblical authority is being undermined in our times: If you can get women’s ordination, room for homosexuality, women as pastors in the churches and no male headship in the home out of the Bible, you can get anything out of the Bible. If you can get Paul’s statement “I do not permit a woman to teach” to say “I do permit a woman to teach” you can make people believe anything. In this case there is nothing you cannot get out of the Bible or read into the Bible. We also undermine authority when we believe something from the Bible but refuse to teach it.

No matter how unpopular, it is the job of the pastor to teach what the Bible says to the eternal glory of God.

March 04, 2006

This is my final day at the conference. The conference proper will end at lunchtime today, though attendees are encouraged to remain until after a communion service tomorrow afternoon. However, I will be spending the day in and around Los Angeles before heading to the airport to catch the redeye flight home so that I can celebrate my son’s sixth birthday with him tomorrow.

I made my way into the worship center a little bit early today and took a couple of photographs of the daily “pastor rush,” something that has become legend around this conference. I managed to get a couple of blurry but humorous photographs which I will post at some point.

Al Mohler will once again be teaching this morning under the banner of The Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

He began with an interesting quote which prec“Preparing to hear and preach the Word of God should have an amazing way of clearing the mind.”

Christianity, we are told, must change or die according to Bishop Spong (and so many others). He wrote a book and suggested a twelve-point reformation of Christianity. He said that the twelve points were based on:

Theism is dead. Since it is dead, Jesus cannot be God. Creation and the Fall are myths that are now outdated. The virgin birth is out because it is tied to Christ’s deity which is also out. The miracles are out because we no longer believe in the possibility that the supernatural can intrude. The cross must be dispensed with as the center of Christianity because the cross is a barbarian idea. There is no visible resurrection of the dead for Christ. The ascension cannot be translated into our age. There is no eternal, objective standard written in Scripture to judge our ethical behavior. Prayer is out because of the death of theism. The church must abandon guilt and any warning of fear of hell. We must embrace and celebrate all forms of human diversity, including, of course, sexual orientation.

The last couple of hundreds of years have seen heresy after heresy arrive and, in some way, be worked into some manner of what calls itself Christianity. There is a certain fatigue that comes to those who have to respond to form after form of these new heresies. It is a perpetual challenge to deal with all of this. We need some advice from someone who knows a whole lot more about this than we do.

2 Timothy 1:8-14. We need this word. We need this advice and need to hear Paul speak to Timothy as the Holy Spirit spoke through Paul.

A ministry of no shame: “Do not be ashamed of the testimony of the Lord, nor of me his prisoner.” Paul was constantly in trouble with the Roman Empire and was in a position of maximum shame, yet wrote these words to Timothy. As long as the minister is faithful, shame is impossible. Paul carried the scars of his suffering as badges of honor. In Hebrews we learn that Christ is not ashamed to call as brothers those who suffer for Him. There is no shame between the Redeemer and the redeemed. Yet one of the reasons that people are always trying to change Christianity is premised on a belief that we should be ashamed of Christ and ashamed of biblical truth. You can be harassed and hurt and slandered, but you cannot be ashamed.

A ministry of no confusion: We see this in verses 9 to 11. “If you want to stay out of trouble, preach in generalities.” If you stay on the near side of saying so close to something, people will never get close to being offended. Paul wanted Timothy to be clear about the gospel - to understand the clarify of the gospel. As believers we must be firm on both affirmations and denials. When Paul reasoned with the Athenians on Mars Hill, Paul both affirms and denies. He speaks not in generalities, but in specifics.

There are a few things we must see. First, the divine initiative. This is God’s act, for He saves. We need to point this out! It is God who does this. It is Christ who is seeking and saving the lost. Second, divine purpose. God’s purpose is grace. He created the world and now saves us to display His grace in the drama of redemption. Third, the divine timetable. This took place in eternity. We need to discover God’s purpose in ages past, not only in the present lest we lose the scope of God’s work. Fourth, a divine appointment. Paul was appointed for this purpose.

A ministry of no fear: We see this in verses 11 and 12. There is suffering in being in the ministry, at least in part, because of the scorn of the world but also in the hurt of seeing people reject the gospel. We are kept by the power of God and place our trust in Him.

A ministry of no compromise: Verses 13 and 14. There are two imperatives: follow and guard. The priority here is to guard this pattern - there is a pattern of sound words. Timothy’s assignment is not to be creative. On the contrary, Paul told Timothy to follow the pattern of sound words he had heard from him! Paul simply told Timothy to preach what Paul had preached, and say what Paul had said. We have an old story to tell and it is not ours to change or modify. It is ours to guard. It calls for tenacity and wisdom and activity. All of this implies that the faith is something that is and will be and always has been. We contend for the same faith that was held by all of the great men of church history.

Where do we find this pattern of sound words? Look how Paul talks to Timothy about this pattern of sound words. 1 Timothy 1:15 - “The saying is trustworthy…” Paul is telling Timothy that is the type of wording he should use. This pattern continues throughout these two epistles. There is a right way to describe the work and person of Christ. We need to learn how to say it right! We learn this pattern through the words of Scripture, but also through creeds and confessions and preaching and hymns. The difference between orthodoxy and heresy is often so slight that we need to be sure we know the right words. “Getting it close isn’t good enough.” “Theological liberals are never out to destroy the church, but to save Christianity from itself.”

The Emerging Church

A motivation: The motivation is to adapt Christianity to this age in a way that is relevant and missional. Their critique of modern Evangelicalism is almost entirely correct. The problem is what is behind that critique, which is, in the case of some but not all, the propositional character of revelation. Many leaders deny that this pattern of sound words is what is to be the sum and substance of our message. In many ways the Emerging Church embraces postmodernism and moral relativism.

Unfortunately at this point Dr. Mohler pretty well ran out of time so was not able to cover this topic in more detail. He went through this information very, very quickly. The obvious point of his examination of the Emergent Church was that it does not follow the biblical pattern of sound words.

March 03, 2006

This has been an encouraging week. It has been a powerful week. I have learned a lot this week, but perhaps more about service than anything else. I have seen young men, so often the type of people who are proud, joyfully traveling with older men in order to serve them. I have seen a whole church commit itself to the service of thousands of people who are strangers to them. I have met leaders within the North American church who shown not a shred of pride, but have asked me, “How can I serve you?” I have been shown such love and have seen countless examples of God’s love in action. I have seen men who have become the message they study and preach. I have been honored to stand in the presence of so many humble, godly pastors, teachers and leaders, some who preach in the largest churches in the land and others who serve in tiny congregations you and I may never hear of. I have come to a deeper understanding of and love for this body of Christ.

This evening we have the great privilege of listening to the teaching ministry of R.C. Sproul. R.C. has long been a stalwart of the Evangelical church - one who is widely respected for his dedication to the cause of Christ. John MacArthur says, truly, “he is a hero to all of us.” His contribution to the defense of the gospel and the spread of the truths of the gospel of grace are almost unparalleled in our day. I look forward to learning what God will have to say to us tonight through the preaching of the Word.

As his text Dr. Sproul read Romans 1:18-25. This afternoon Dr. MacArthur asked the panel during the question and answer session what is the most serious challenge facing the church. They all answered and then Al Mohler stated correctly that all of the other men’s concerns had a deeper problem: the nature of truth. Many people are wondering whether there even is truth and whether it is worth searching for. This situation was, of course, predicted by Francis Schaeffer who wrote about “true truth.”

Historically there have been times when people have questioned the very concept of truth. Prior to the Reformation, people waited for truth to be decreed to them by Rome. This was destroyed in the Reformation. In the seventeenth century, Descartes began searching for a foundational premise for truth - some truth that would be so foundational that do doubt it would be to affirm it. Descartes came up with “I think, therefore I am.”

This evening Dr. Sproul will get back to foundational truth. He will take us to one of the most foundational truths taught by the Scriptures, one that is so important we ignore it to our everlasting peril and the peril of the sheep pastors are called to serve.

Verse seventeen is almost universally regarded to be the thematic verse of the entire epistle. Paul spends the rest of the letter expounding and explaining this righteousness of God. He speaks about a revelation of the righteousness of God - the righteousness that He makes available to us by faith. Paul instantly departs from this positive note and, in verse eighteen, speaks about another revelation and this is the one we will look at tonight. “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” The wrath of God is spectacularly unpopular and pastors seem to seek to shield their people from having to contemplate such a negative, pessimistic idea as the wrath of God.

At the time of the Great Awakening the theologians and pastors developed a theology of wrath so that the preaching of this period was defined by speaking of the depravity of man and the wrath of God against man. The nineteenth century gave us liberalism which denied the depravity of man and thus the wrath of God. The twentieth century turned against the optimism of this and again took seriously the wrath of God, but said that this was merely an expression of the demonic within the being of God - the “shadow side” of God.

Paul is talking about a disclosure that comes from God and it is the disclosure of wrath. We should notice here the word Paul uses for wrath. This word, when transliterated into English, becomes “orgy.” The connection to wrath is the emphasis on unbridled passion. What God is saying here is that His wrath is not a mere disturbance, not a slight displeasure, but an absolute fury. God is livid. He is, in a supernatural way, irate about something. When the Scripture tells us God is this angry about something, we need to listen up and learn what it is that can possibly provoke this loving, longsuffering deity to such anger.

We do not need to speculate because God gives us the answer. God’s wrath is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. God’s anger is not irrational. He is not manifesting His rage in an unjust manner. This is righteous indignation because the object of His anger and wrath is ungodliness and unrighteousness. In our culture, the prevailing suggestion towards God is that if He is really loving and good there can be no room for wrath. “But if God is really righteous and sin is really sin, God cannot not be angry.” A judge who is not angry at evil is not good. God’s wrath is not arbitrary or whimsical or irrational.

Paul mentions two things: ungodliness and unrighteousness. We could believe that Paul is speaking of two distinct sins, but this is not the case. It is almost universally agreed that Paul is expressing a single sin that is, by its wickedness, is both unrighteous and ungodly. It is both a blasphemous and unethical response. So what sin is it that is both ungodly and unrighteous that has so provoked God’s anger?

Paul says, “…who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” There is the sin - the universal sin. The sin that every human being in the world commits. The force of the verb translated “suppress” is that there is a truth God reveals to the whole world and that this truth is willfully suppressed and pushed down by all human beings. All human beings will not have God in their thinking. It is like a giant spring or coil. It takes all of my effort to push down, but I am determined to push it down and I have to work to keep it down, because if I take the pressure off, it will spring right back at me, right in my face. God hates it when people suppress truth!

The most fundamental basis of human guilt for which the gospel is the only remedy is the universal sin of fallen humanity of suppressing the truth of God.

“For what may be known of God is manifest in them.” When God speaks of the revelation of Himself to every human being, He is not talking about a vague, dim, obscure, hidden, cloudy idea. What God is saying to us is that His revelation of Himself is clear, manifest. So clear, so manifest you can’t possibly miss it. This text is the death blow to all agnosticism. Paul is saying that this revelation is clear, so we cannot blame God for not making Himself more clear. No one will be able to say on the last day that “the student didn’t learn because the teacher didn’t teach.”

“Since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes are clearly seen.” There are no contradictions in the Bible, but there are paradoxes. In this verse we see that God’s invisible attributes are clearly seen. How is this possible? That clear, manifest revelation makes itself know through the things that are made. I can’t see God, but I see the works of His hands, for the heavens declare His glory and the firmament shows forth His excellence. His invisible attributes are clearly known and revealed through the visible.

Every person on the planet knows that God exists, that He is eternal, that He is immutable, that He is self-existent, and that He is holy. This leaves people without excuse. What does Paul have in mind? What excuse does he anticipate? What excuse does every sinner harbor in his heart that he will use on the day of judgment? “If only I had known…” “I had no way of knowing…” Every unrepentant sinner is depending on using the excuse of ignorance to get them by. But Paul says that the clarity of God’s self-disclosure to every human being, leaves every human being without excuse.

Now we are getting to this foundational premise. “Because although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God, nor were they thankful…” When we contemplate the sinfulness of our humanity and ask what it is about our corruption that is so hateful to God, the foundational sin of the human race, is the sin of idolatry. It is there in the beginning. It is in the hearts of all those who stem from Adam’s sinful race. It is not that God is mad that they shut out this revelation of God, or that they shut out the light. The sin is that the light got through so that despite knowing God, they refused to acknowledge God. The fundamental sin is the refusal to acknowledge what we know to be true. It’s not that we don’t know God - it’s that we don’t honor Him as God! We honor Him, not as God, but in the way we want to honor Him. We honor Him as a bird, a totem pole, a golden calf, or some other idol.

“Their foolish hearts were darkened…” Do you ever wonder why it is that many of history’s titanic intellects managed to come to radically different conclusions? The answer is simple: If you begin your system of thought by refusing to acknowledge what you know to be true - if you start with a lie - the more brilliant and consistent you are in following that premise, the further from truth you will go.

“Professing to be wise, they became foolish…” It is the fool that says in his heart “there is no God.” In biblical categories, foolishness is not a question of intelligence but of one of a mind that is darkened and that embraces a lie. He claims wisdom despite being foolish. What can be more foolish than to have a clear manifestation of God and exchange that truth for a lie?

The essence of idolatry is found in this concept of an exchange, a swap, a trade - trading one thing for another. You’re trading the glory of the unchanging, holy, omnipotent God for the glory of a bird or a totem pole. No wonder the prophets made fun of the pagans of their day! This is what we do, though perhaps in a more sophisticated way. We use our minds to cut away God’s righteousness, holiness, sovereignty, and wrath, and we give people what they want to hear.

“Our propensity for idolatry is the most foundational, basic sin of the human heart. It is not instantly cured by conversion. There is nobody who has a perfectly biblical understanding of God, and to whatever degree we have discounted the biblical God, we have replaced God with a creation of our own imagination.” If you are in ministry and are not proclaiming the whole counsel of God, and are thus hiding the truths of God, you are exposing yourself to the fury of God.

“What our churches need more than anything else is worship. Worship where the hearts and souls of the people are lifted in a spirit of reverence and awe as they contemplate all that God is. Nothing less will do.”


March 03, 2006

Over the lunch break this afternoon I elected not to go anywhere off-campus, but to just sit and relax. This was much needed and was very rewarding. Near the end of this time I was privileged to be given a tour of the seminary library by the librarian, Dennis Swanson. Of particular interest was a room containing a multitude of old, valuable Bibles and other books. The library even has a first edition of John Calvin’s Institutes in English. I love books, and especially old books, so was glad to be able to poke around and see the library’s impressive collection.

This afternoon we have only one session - a question and answer period which will see John MacArthur asking questions of the various keynote speakers who have blessed us with their teaching this week.

Looking at the five men at the front, sitting in their black suits, MacArthur remarked that this could be a funeral and they could be the pallbearers. He went on to ask questions of Mark Dever, R.C. Sproul, Al Mohler and Steve Lawson: questions about preaching, theology, mentorship, and contemporary issues in the church. This format does not lend itself to blogging so I opted not to write about it. Though I did not and really could not adequately write about it, it was a funny, powerful, positive time. If you are able to get ahold of a recording of this session, you will benefit from it, and particularly so if you are a pastor.

March 03, 2006

This morning finds us at the fifth and final seminar. I have chosen to attend one led by Carey Hardy, which he has entitled How to Raise a Pharisee: Avoiding legalism in the home.� Carey is senior executive pastor at Grace Church and an adjunct professor at The Master�s College and Seminary.

The pharisees were the original legalists. �Pharisees� means �separated ones� and this is something in which they took great pride. They separated themselves both literally and figuratively and really did believe that their priorities were close to the heart of God. They desired to live out God�s Word, protect it and propagate it. They desperately wanted to protect God�s Word and did this by adding to it and building fences about it. These �helpful additions� soon became absolutely essential so that God�s laws were no longer enough. They developed another 365 rules that were passed orally from generation to generation. This law eventually became more important to them than the Law of God.

We have pharisees today. There are some who add their own rules and regulations and come to believe that these are equal to the Word of God. Legalists take away personal responsibility for thinking and living by conscience. They create rules and then judge themselves and others by them. Jesus described these men as yeast and leaven, because the yeast of the pharisees was hypocrisy. There was confusion that they caused among the people about what God wanted and expected. It is just as easy for a believer today to be confused by these spreading gangrene of legalism.

There is not a problem in traditions or local distinctions. But there is something wrong when we present personal preferences as eternal truth. So we have the pharisees who are judgmental, prideful and hypocritical.

Hardy has taken notice of practices that, if practiced, will produce pharisees. This is a twelve-step program to increase the probability of raising a pharisee. They all relate to one another and sometimes the line of distinction is not entirely clear.

  1. Majoring on external instead of internal issues: The Jews were thinking externally about the Law of God and Christ began to change their thinking to show that God is interested in the heart - in the inside. Parents need to avoid focusing only on the external without providing biblical exhortation and foundation. Adherence to external regulations in the home cannot be equated with a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Parents can be deluded into thinking their children are saved simply by seeing external conformity in their lives. Apparent change on the outside does not necessarily indicate true, lasting internal change.
  2. Excessive control: This points to the lack of balance between discipline and instruction. There may be too many rules or restrictions or rules that are pointless, harsh, too strict. �There are some parents who are walking minus signs.� This involves excessive control in attempting to micro-manage a family, telling a child everything he can and cannot do. We need to find ways of saying �yes� to our children and allowing them to pursue their dreams and interests. Enter into their world and don�t be so quick to point out how impossible or illogical something is. �Make your first response positive.� Be known as somebody who will listen and this means you need to think long-term. Fads come and go, so don�t get too concerned about every fad that comes and go with your child. Many parents become overly controlling on issues of preference and then never allow their children to make decisions on their own.
  3. Over-reacting to failure: That includes not allowing the freedom to fail. You�re treating failure as if it�s the end of the world. Maximizing instead of minimizing it. Failure is an amazing opportunity for teaching. It is the children�s failures that provide the best opportunities to share the gospel and provide the most teachable moments. Over-reacting to failure is performance-based love. Perfectionism - expecting perfection from our children - is not a good thing. It is not the same as the pursuit of excellence.
  4. Being unforgiving: This is that grouchy, irritable parent, frustrated over everything that goes wrong, who creates an oppressive, negative atmosphere in the home. There is no visible end to the consequences for sinful choices. Sin must be dealt with, but there has to be an end to the consequences. An unforgiving parent does not want to end the consequences but wants to remain grumpy and mean. �Deal with the issue, and be over it.� We have to teach what forgiveness looks like. The home is where encouragement and support needs to flourish. If you refuse to forgive your children, you are teaching them to be unforgiving.
  5. Elevating preference over biblical principles: Some parents may emphasize personal preferences over what the Bible clearly teaches. A child is expected to obey a house rule (for example, when a child is to do homework or when he may have a snack), but these are not to be confused with Scriptural truth. We need rules based on preference, but do not try to make your child believe that these are biblical rules. Admit that we are doing these things because this is the way dad and mom want to do it.
  6. Unnecessary separatism: This has become a huge problem with many homeschooling families. Hardy homeschooled his children when they were young, so he loves and affirms homeschooling. But he dislikes when some people attempt to make a biblical case for homeschooling but there is not one. What he has seen is some families pulling away from other families because the parents do not want their children associating with children who are not homeschooling. But separatism is no guarantee that children will grow to respect their parents or love the Lord. Children must be involved with other children for this is important to their development. Parents need to exercise some care and discernment in allowing their children to be around others, but it is important that they learn how to relate to other children. We must also be careful to interact with people within our neighborhoods and make sure that we are not so separatistic that we ignore the mission fields in our own neighborhoods.
  7. Judging others: (especially other families). Be judgmental about the things that are going on at church: roast a pastor for Sunday lunch. A constant rain of criticism will develop a judgmental spirit in them. You usually judge others by your personal convictions and preferences rather than Scripture.
  8. Being a fighter (or being belligerent): To this kind of parent, every issue is a fighting issue. Every issue is worth fighting for in church, home and the world. Kids are taught what to fight against, but not what they fight for. They are known for being only negative.
  9. Showing favoritism: (of one child or another child). It shows that a parent only likes to spend time with people who are like them. These leads back to separatism. When you prefer one child over another, you harm them both.
  10. No humor: You could also say, �no fun.� A parent needs to know how not to take himself so seriously, and sometimes not to take things in the world so seriously. �Let your hair down.� We need to teach our children to have a good sense of humor, but not crass humor. We need to make the home a place that is fun and where the children like to be.
  11. Building up their self-esteem: Nowhere in the Bible do you find the issue of self-esteem which is a worldly, psychological concept. Nowhere are you taught to love yourself. Our problem is that we love ourselves too much! This encourages children to focus on self and to build-up self. In encourages selfishness. We also need to avoid modeling a self-focus and we may do this by believing that our children exist primarily to make us happy. Finally, don�t use your child to bring glory to yourself.
  12. A lack of genuine spirituality yourself: Living hypocritically teaches hypocrisy. There has to be some level of pursuing Christ that they see in the parents. Our children should see us reading the Bible and praying in our quiet times. They should see and know the genuineness of our faith. Legalism in your life is a cheap substitute for spirituality

As a final exhortation, Hardy challenged us to keep parenting simple. Discipline children when they disobey and give them lots of love. Live life with and before your children.