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Continuing through Revelation with James M. Boice

July 3, 2020 7 comments

Continuing in Seven Churches, Four Horsemen, One Lord, here are some highlights from Boice’s commentary.

Revelation 2 and 3 follow the standard overview regarding this generally narrative section:  the history and situation of each of the seven churches, and highlighting their strengths and weaknesses. The church at Ephesus, with the instruction to remember and repent, prompts a great summary about Paradise regained:

Ever since Adam and Eve lost Paradise because of their sin, sinners have tried to build their own paradise on earth.  Cain tried it first by constructing the city of Enoch in the land of Nod.  Some tried to do it at Babel by building a tower that they hoped would reach to heaven.  The Greeks tried to make Athens a paradise.  The Romans tried to do it in Rome.  We do it too, supposing that we can have our own paradise here on earth–even in our churches.  But the cities of men are doomed to destruction.  They will all fall away.  The only true paradise is in heaven, where it has been prepared only for those who love God.  For they alone are able to overcome, “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” (Rev. 12:11)

Smyrna is noted as one of the two (out of seven) cities that still exist:  the modern-day Turkish city Izmir, and the home of Polycarp, the twelfth martyr in Smyrna—and one of the original Revelation 2 readers.

The exhortation to Thyatira (Rev. 2:24-25) (any other burden) has a reference to Acts 15:28-29 –the early church history and instructions that went out to the Gentile churches.  Here is presented again that same general advice:  Live free in Christ, but do not compromise with the idolatry or sexual immorality of the surrounding culture.  Verse 28 has a later reference in this same book (Revelation 22:16), where Jesus identifies Himself as “the bright morning star” – a likely allusion to Numbers 24:14-20 , the ‘star’ that would arise out of Jacob to crush God’s enemies.  Here in Revelation 2, this is applied to the saints who have already been promised to rule with Jesus on the basis of Psalm 2.

One of Sardis’ early bishops, Melito, is the first known commentator on the book of Revelation.  Boice, while teaching on the church in Sardis, also makes reference to 2 Timothy 3:5 (see this previous post) with application to the current-day church (now 20 years ago, a situation worsened another 20 years):

… here is the shocking thing.  Having described this evil worldly culture by its vices, Paul further describes its members in verse 5 as ‘having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.’  This cannot be referring to pagans.  Paul would never have described the pagans of his day as having ‘an appearance of godliness.’  …. it must be describing the church.  In other words, the problem that Paul saw is not that the world will be wicked in the final days before Christ’s return but that the church will be like the world—as it is today.  The church will be indistinguishable from the world and will be equally corrupt—at least when you look beneath the surface.

In Revelation 4 and 5, Boice addresses the subject of worship, including songs in our worship.  Another interesting point is God’s throne–mentioned about 40 times in Revelation, and in 19 of the 22 chapters (all except chapters 2, 8 and 9).  Regarding the emerald rainbow description in Revelation 4:3, a quote from William Hendriksen notes a biblical reference:

the only biblical significance of the rainbow is that it was the sign of the covenant that God made with Noah following the great flood of Genesis 6-9.  It signifies a covenant of grace, and its reappearance in Revelation–coming at the very end of the Bible, as it did at the beginning–indicates that God is eternally the same.  He is and always has been a covenant-making, covenant-keeping God.

Another great quote from Hendriksen is shared in Revelation 5, in reference to John’s tears in verse 4    :

You will understand the meaning of these tears if you constantly bear in mind that in this beautiful vision the opening of the scroll by breaking the seals indicates the execution of God’s plan.  When the scroll is opened and the seals are broken, then the universe is governed in the interests of the church.  Then, God’s glorious, redemptive purpose is being realized; his plan is being carried out and the contents of the scroll come to pass in the history of the universe.  But if the scroll is not opened it means that there will be no protection for God’s children in the hours of bitter trial; no judgments upon a persecuting world, no ultimate triumph for believers, no new heaven and earth, no future inheritance.

In Revelation 6 commentary, Boice considers the identity of the rider on the white horse (the first of the seven seals).  After describing the two common views – the rider is Jesus Christ, or the rider is the antiChrist – Boice selected a third option, that the rider “merely represents the spirit of conquest or militarism that leads to the evils that are symbolized by the riders that follow him.”  His view on the seals overall is that they describe the general characteristics of this age (the last 2,000 years).  In exposition of the rest of the seals, Boice provides interesting commentary on the martyrs, including a section on Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and stories from the Huguenot martyrs of the 18th century.

Boice was able to complete all of Revelation 6, all verses – all of the seals, so exposition of everything up through the end of Revelation 6 and the question of the ‘end times’ events being symbolic or literal (he opted for the literal, the fuller meaning of these descriptions—relating what we already have experience with, the destructive power of even individual earthquakes and one volcanic eruption (such as Mount St. Helens in 1980).  Then the book abruptly ends, with brief end comments from Philip Ryken.

As shown in the afterword, this book is Ryken’s tribute to his predecessor, James Montgomery Boice. This commentary on the first six chapters of Revelation is readable and instructive, and the tribute ends on the positive note, of Boice’s last days with his congregation as God was preparing him for the worship of heaven.  This work, including Ryken’s ending tribute, is an enjoyable read, very informative with many anecdotes and treatments of several doctrinal truths.

The Apocalypse: Revelation Commentary from James M. Boice

June 3, 2020 11 comments
A lot of “stage-setting” for the end times scenario has occurred within the last several decades:  Israel back in the land (regathered in unbelief), and the worldwide travel and instant communication technology indirectly prophesied in Rev. 11:9-10 (see this previous post).  Very recent news is starting to look more and more apocalyptic:  a worldwide pandemic (the above two pieces were not in place during previous pandemics), killer hornets, riots and anarchy around the country, and even articles about the world leaders looking for someone to take charge and lead the world in dealing with covid-19.  (Note:  I am not saying that any of these things ARE end-times events; yet these events are interesting, in terms of what God is working out in this world, in His providence, in preparation for Christ’s Return.)
The Second Coming and our Blessed Hope  is always an important doctrine — oft-neglected, especially when the world appears to be stable and status-quo.  In the current world situation, the year 2020 which has turned out to be far from the normal life, resources that point us to the end times are especially to be appreciated.  One such offering, from Dr. Phillip Ryken and the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, is a newly published commentary from the late James Montgomery Boice on the first six chapters of Revelation.   Seven Churches, Four Horsemen, and One LORD is compiled from Boice’s last messages at Tenth Presbyterian Church, just before he learned the news of cancer; Boice went home to be with the Lord before completing the series.  I’ve been aware of Boice for several years, as a modern-times covenantal premillennialist, and have previously listened to and read some of his teaching, such as his Psalms commentary on book one, and a few other messages.  Recently I’ve also started listening to some of his lectures on the minor prophets, and it was refreshing to hear his very clear and sensible exposition of Zechariah 14, including his reference to David Baron.
As I’m reading the first chapters in this new commentary, on Revelation 1, the original plan to complete the series was in his mind, and thus comes a touch of sadness when reading page 21, where Boice mentioned the Hebrew number equivalents, noting “We will discuss this puzzle when we get to chapter 13 ….”  In this case as always, it was “if the Lord wills,” and clearly the Lord had other plans, to take Boice home before that point.
The commentary on Revelation 1 provides Boice’s two main guidelines, along with interesting connections between Revelation 1 and OT passages.  This Reformation21 post provides a good excerpt on the introductory material.  Another interesting part here is the count of OT allusions in the book of Revelation:  79 references to Isaiah, 54 to Daniel, 48 to Ezekiel, 43 to the Psalms, 27 to Exodus, 22 to Jeremiah, 15 to Zechariah, 9 to Amos, and 8 to Joel.  Of the 404 verses of the 22 chapters of Revelation, 278 contain one or more allusions to an OT passage.
Revelation 1 is interesting in many ways, including the numerous Old Testament allusions, such as these, pointed out by Boice:

Other interesting points:

  • the seven lamps in this vision are separate lamps, not attached to each other like the Jewish Menorah.  This represents the universal church.  Here, also reference Matthew 5:14-15, the city on a hill and a light set on a stand.
  • Revelation 1 portrays Jesus as a priest (standing among the lampstands and tending them) and as a prophet, who has come to impart the revelation to the apostle John

Boice was less concerned about the specific futurist/historicist/preterist interpretations, focusing instead on the pattern, repeated throughout the book of Revelation, of visions that show the scene in heaven, followed by scenes on earth.  The purpose of Revelation, something that is applicable to all believers in all eras of history, is to get Christians from all periods of history and in all circumstances to look at things from God’s perspective rather than from man’s and to draw comfort and strength from that perspective.

This quote from J.I. Packer (shared by Boice) well expresses the timelessness of God’s word, and the  immutability of our God:

Men sometimes say things that they do not really mean, simply because they do not know their own mind; also, because their views change, they frequently find that they can no longer stand to things that they said in the past.  All of us sometimes have to recall our words, because they have ceased to express what we think; sometimes we have to eat our words, because hard facts refute them.  The words of men are unstable things.  But not so the words of God.  They stand forever, as abidingly valid expressions of His mind and thought..  No circumstances prompt Him to recall them; no changes in His own thinking require Him to amend them.  Isaiah writes, ‘All flesh is grass … the grass withereth … but the word of our God shall stand for ever’ (Isaiah 40:6).

 

Christology: David’s Son and David’s Lord (Review)

May 15, 2020 1 comment

I’ve enjoyed the Theology theme essay books recently published by the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, compilations of lectures on various doctrinal topics.  Previous posts here include reviews of Only One Way and Our Ancient Foe.  The latest offering is on the topic of Christology —  David’s Son and David’s Lord: Christology for Christ’s People.  As Mark Jones observed in Antinomianism:  Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest (see this previous post), the errors of antinomianism and legalism, common among Christians today, are resolved by a solid foundation of Christology.  This volume contains 11 contributions, from lectures originally delivered at the 2018 Spring Theology Conference at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, from many theologians including Joel Beeke, Michael Barrett, G.K. Beale, Ian Hamilton, and several others.

A recent post included a close look at chapter 7 from this essay collection.  The other chapters are also helpful, with teaching on several points: Christ as our prophet, our priest, our king, His deity and pre-existence, His impeccability; also several essay expositions of particular texts such as Psalm 45, Isaiah 53, and Matthew 4.

It would be hard to pick one ‘best’ chapter, as this volume has many solid essays, including the chapter from the very quotable Joel Beeke, and Morales’ essay with parallels between Israel in the wilderness and Jesus’ later 40 days in the wilderness.  G.K. Beale’s writing, on the Genesis creation theme of being fruitful and blessings, a theme continued throughout the rest of the Old Testament, is also interesting.

Among the highlights, Joel Beeke (Deity and pre-existence of the Son of God; John 8:58) provided strong application, as in these selections:

Do you give Christ your heart in worship every day, and especially during Lord’s Day services?  To worship Him is to recognize that He is the One who meets all your needs and brings us true happiness.  He is worthy of your adoration and worship.  Tell Him, therefore, in public worship, as well as in private, that He is your highest love, your only Beloved without any competitors.

and

The fact that Christ has been faithful to His covenant and to His covenant people throughout the ages proves that He will be faithful to you now.  Can you recount the many times when Christ has shown Himself faithful to you?  The fact that Christ has been faithful to his covenant and covenant people throughout the ages proves that He will be faithful to you now and forever more.  Can you recount the many times when Christ has delivered you from trouble?  Sometimes doubts arise within us because of various trials we encounter.  Are you prepared to counter these doubts by recounting His many deliverances?  Keep a record of the ways God has brought you through difficulties in the past.  There is wisdom in the children’s song, ‘Count your blessings, name them one by one.’

Throughout the book are also many quotes from the Puritan and other past writers, such as this great one from Edward Griffin, on Romans 8:32:

What could you wish for more?  What change can you desire?  In what single circumstance would you move for an alteration?  Our blessed Jesus governs all.  Would you take the government of a single event out of his hands?  To whom then would you commit it?  To angels?  They never loved like Jesus.  To chance?  There is no such love in chance.  To men?  Men never died to save your lives.  To yourselves?  Jesus loves you better than you love yourselves, and knows infinitely better what is for your good.  Come then [to Christ] …. and rejoice that this redeemed world is governed by the matchless love of him who died to deliver it from Satan’s oppression.

The book ends at an appropriate place, with Ryan McGraw on Christ’s Return and its importance, and how we should live in light of the Second Coming.  This section especially reminded me of the similar point made by J.C. Ryle in his Coming Events and Present Duties, and McGraw mentions J.C. Ryle, who reportedly “would look out his window every morning and say, ‘maybe today Lord,’ and every evening and say, ‘maybe tonight Lord’.”  This chapter includes quotes from Thomas Manton and Sinclair Ferguson, and mentions the appointed means by which we reflect on the Lord’s Return, including baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the observance of the Sabbath.  McGraw also emphasizes the beatific vision of heaven–the more traditional view of heaven–as contrasted with the “New Creation” model (reference this previous post, about Derek Thomas’ book Heaven on Earth’).

“David’s Son and David’s Lord: Christology for Christ’s People” is another great selection in the conference lecture series essays.  The essays cover several topics within the overall theme, with great expositions of Bible texts, and solid application to the Christian life.

Lessons From the Book of Job

March 13, 2020 8 comments

Over the last few years I’ve looked for good sermon series in the wisdom literature, and especially on the book of Job, but had not found any until recently.  Now two such series, both from Reformed/Covenantal speakers/authors, are available:  a 9 part series from Danny Hyde (with the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals), “Whom Do I Trust?” as well as a still in-progress series on SermonAudio from Dr. Michael Barrett (covenantal premillennialist, at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary), series, “Dealing with Hard Providences.”  (Note:  SermonAudio for Michael Barrett also shows a much older (1991) sermon series in the book of Job; I have not listened to that earlier series.)

Both of these series provide some interesting points, with different approaches to the book and emphasizing particular sections of the 42 chapters.  Barrett points out more of the historical context, during the time after Noah’s flood and before Abraham, and suggested authorship of Solomon.   A main idea brought out in both is that Job’s three friends had right and correct theology, as far as it went—but very wrong application to Job’s particular case.  Along the way, both note the repetition, the three full cycle pattern of speeches from Job, then Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.  Hyde here makes good application from the friends’ first speeches:  the friends are actually saying the things noted by Satan in the prologue: man-centered theology, what can I get from God?, and even a version of the prosperity gospel in Bildad’s first speech:  just do the right thing, confess your sins and return to God, and you’ll be blessed.  Ironically enough, that is what happens to Job at the end, doubly blessed by God, and yet not for any reason on Job’s part.  It is not as though God can be manipulated like a slot machine by a ‘formula’ of doing particular outward acts in order to get the material blessings you want.

Another good observation (from both) is Job’s increasing faith throughout the dialogues.  As noted in the ‘Whom Do I Trust?’ series, Job’s speeches get longer and the others’ speeches shorter, showing Job dealing with his problems and increasing in faith.  The faith is often temporary, and then Job lapses back into despair, as also noted in Barrett’s series.

As sometimes happens, here I note a few areas of disagreement or questionable matters, on secondary issues:

  • Danny Hyde describes the behemoth and leviathan as modern-day animals such as water buffaloes and crocodiles.  Online resources have considered the details of these texts, to show that these animals fit with the very early time of the book of Job and do not really work as descriptions of modern-day animals; good evidence exists that these were what we know of as dinosaurs and historically were called dragons; reference this article from Creation Ministries International.
  • In the Barrett series, the dream and spirit references made by Eliphaz (Job 4:12-21; see this article) were legitimate revelations from God, in that age before the closed canon when God communicated by dreams — to unsaved biblical characters such as Joseph’s pharaoh; other examples here would include Nebuchadnezzar, Abimelech (Genesis 20), and Laban (Genesis 31) – and in visions and theophanies to His people.  (Though I would add that dream visions also came to God’s people, such as Joseph himself.)  Elsewhere I have read, regarding Job 4:12-21, that this spirit was actually not God but demonic (see, for example, this Days of Praise devotional).

I would have liked to see more treatment of the fourth, younger, friend Elihu.  Danny Hyde seems to just put him in the same category as the three friends, and completely skips over the Elihu chapters as well as the epilogue that mentions Job sacrificing for his three friends (specifically named), because the three friends had not spoken rightly about God.  Barrett briefly mentioned Elihu, noting that he didn’t quite know what to make of Elihu and had different feelings (depending on his mood) regarding Elihu.  Future messages in his series may add more teaching about Elihu.

Still, though, full treatment of everything in Job would require a commentary, rather than a survey series.  The 9 part series from Danny Hyde, as well as Michael Barrett’s series (in progress) accomplish their purposes, teaching on the major theme of the book of Job along with great application to the Christian life and how we deal with suffering when it happens.

Our Ancient Foe: Essays From Reformed Theologians

December 10, 2019 1 comment

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals has recently published essay type books from the content in some of their PCRT conferences.  I previously reviewed Only One Way, with a great selection of chapters dealing with the many ‘only one way’ doctrines and their implications for our lives as Christians.

Another in this series is Our Ancient Foe: The History, Activity, and Demise of the Devil (Best of Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology), with nine essays from selected conferences.  Last year I referenced some of the lectures in the actual “Our Ancient Foe” 2017 Quakertown conference, focusing on the lectures from Dr. Peter Jones.

The book version features some of the 2017 conference content, four chapters from two of the speakers – Kent Hughes and Tom Nettles – along with additional chapters from authors/theologians Joel Beeke, Derek W.H. Thomas, Sinclair Ferguson, Roger Nicole, and Ronald L. Kohl (the editor).

As with Only One Way, the chapters are very readable and interesting for the layperson audience, and include a lot of interesting teaching and great quotes.  Derek Thomas references the motivation for Christian living, that we need to see other motives besides basic gratitude, to the motivations understood in confessional Reformed theology (imperatives, indicatives, and the wrath of God).  Joel Beeke talks about our weakness and besetting sins:

“The frightening truth about Satan is that he knows us.  He observes our character, moment by moment, and he knows our weakest points.  Isn’t that true in your life?  Haven’t you noticed that the things that you easily stumble over surface repeatedly?  Satan keeps presenting them to you, and you often fall so easily that it’s embarrassing. … in our weakness, we stumble over measly little worms.  My friend, may I warn you in the words of Jesus today, ‘Simon, Simon, behold.’  Don’t eat the little worms of this world in the place of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Tom Nettles references the devil having the power of death, and the deeper mystery from eternity past, in a Narnia-esque passage (a similar point made in C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” in reference to the White Witch and Aslan):

It’s not that Satan controls who lives and who dies.  It’s that he thinks that, because God is always true to His promises, he can hold the Word of God before God himself and say, ‘This is what you declared would happen and must happen.’  But God has a wisdom that Satan cannot foresee—that the redemptive purpose of God comes out in these interesting and sometimes baffling providential arrangements.  And now this deeper mystery, from before the beginning of time, has come to pass:  the death of the Son of God, who took our nature and was made like his brethren in everything.  In doing that, Jesus has fulfilled the particular verse that Satan has clung to as his ace in the hole—the verse he’s been holding before God: they sinned, they must die.

Sinclair Ferguson, on Satan’s final demise, provides an interesting simple perspective of Revelation as God’s “picture book”:
There is a sense in which the book of Revelation is the easiest, not the most difficult, book in the New Testament. It’s easiest because it is the book in which, more than in any other, God comes down to the simplest of us.  Instead of explaining the gospel to us in the great doctrinal expositions that we find, for example, in some of Paul’s letters, and instead of showing us the glory of God and the glory of the gospel … simply by means of words, God sits down beside us in the book of Revelation as though we were his little children and says to us, ‘Look at the picture book that I’ve made for you.’
 Our Ancient Foe is another great Reformed Conference series publication, a great reference with helpful and edifying content in an easy to read format, on an important doctrinal topic.

Conference Lecture Series: The Westminster Confession into the 21st Century

October 10, 2019 Leave a comment

Among the conference lecture series I’ve recently listened to are two “Westminster Confession into the 21st century” (from Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary) conferences from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals’ archive – from 2004 and 2007.  As noted in a previous post these are the readings of scholarly papers, and so the audio recordings provide a type of “audio book” experience on various topics concerning the Westminster Standards and covenant theology.  The lectures feature a variety of speakers: some regulars within the Alliance conferences, along with a few well-known names such as Ligon Duncan and Sinclair Ferguson.  Some of the lectures are more interesting (and easier to follow) than others; the delivery of some is “abridged” with selected readings, skipping over some parts and then continuing to other sections, within the time permitted (about an hour).

The more recent conference lectures/journal articles, back to the fall of 2014, are also available online here.  The audio archive has the benefit of earlier material, such as the two I’ve been listening to:  2004’s Conference “The Richness of Our Theological Heritage” and from 2007, “Systematic Theology: Informing Your Life in Christ.”

The lectures assume a basic knowledge of the Westminster Confession and Reformed theology, and provide introduction to several interesting topics which would be good for further study, including:

  • The Scottish Covenanters and the history of the different sub-groups
  • Good and necessary consequences
  • Christian Liberty
  • The roles of systematic theology and biblical theology (redemptive historical) and the value of both

I’m still listening to the “The Richness of our Theological Heritage” series, and find these lectures another great educational resource, for “seminary-type” teaching beyond the layperson / general audience level.  The full collection, from all past conferences, is available here.

Baptism as a Means of Grace

August 14, 2019 2 comments

From one of the earlier Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals’ PCRT conferences (1981) on “How to Grow your Faith” comes an interesting lecture from Robert Godfrey, on Baptism as a means of grace.  It’s a subject I’ve been considering lately, the scripture and reasoning for paedo (versus believer) baptism, and this lecture fits in along with other online articles I’ve come across.

In this post I want to look at this sacrament, baptism, as a means of grace (regardless of whether paedo or believers’ baptism); and a lot of the material comes from John Calvin’s writing in the Institutes, and referenced in this lecture.

Church history has shown two extremes to be avoided – first, the superstitious “magical” view of the Roman Catholicism, that the Reformers responded to in their day.  The current day evangelicalism – and just as true if not more so than in 1981 – has tended to the other extreme, of viewing the sacraments (sometimes called ordinances due to over-reaction again the Roman Catholic view of sacraments) as of no value, something to be neglected, as an “appendix” and an after thought.  There are the churches that only observe the Lord’s Supper once a quarter (every 3 months), or even once a year.  Then, too, are the cases of unusual practice, that remove the significance of the sacraments, where people don’t think about the symbolism and the purpose of the sacraments:  a church observance of the Lord’s Supper in which the bread is put into the bottom of the plastic drink cup and people “drink” the bread from the cup into their mouth; or, a church that wants to be culturally relevant and so refers to baptism as “coming out”–complete with online postings of testimonials from young believers who talk about their life and past problems and then they came to Jesus (more focused on the person’s experience than about the triune God and what He has done for us).

Yet as pointed out in Godfrey’s lecture (back to Calvin), the main point regarding baptism is not about us—but it is something that God has done.   Baptism should first be viewed as God’s pledge and promise to us as individuals, as a part of the “visible word” to us as individuals.  After all, sermons are given generally, to everyone in the audience, but each person has their own baptism experience to look back to.  Baptism is not to be seen as just a one-time event at the start of the Christian life, and then we go forward and forget about it; properly viewed, it is something we look back to, in relation to God’s purpose for me, something that brings assurance (as do the other means of grace).

Martin Luther referred to baptism in this way, that his baptism was something that told him he was a Christian:  not thinking of baptism in a legalistic way as though the baptism itself is what saves someone, the error of baptismal regeneration – but in this “means of grace” view, thinking about what God in Christ has done for us, of baptism as God’s sign of the covenant relationship with Luther as an individual.  Godfrey agrees that baptism also serves as a testimony of our faith, of each of us being one of God’s people.  Yet this is a secondary purpose, and we must never forget the primary purpose and meaning of baptism.

Martin Luther quote:

No one should be terrified if he feels evil lust or love, nor should he despair even if he falls. Rather he should remember his Baptism and comfort himself joyfully with the fact that God has there pledged Himself to slay his sin for him, and not to count it a cause for condemnation, if only he does not say yes to sin and remain in it.

Godfrey’s lecture used the “P” letter for the sermon outline – including the Prominence of the term baptism in scripture, then the Pledge and Promise of God, and the People (recipients) of baptism.  One section does address the Presbyterian-view scripture reasons for the paedo view, an informational part done with respect—observing that people rarely heard actual discussion about the paedo Baptist view in Presbyterian sermons, referencing even the Presbyterian scholar Charles  Hodge as one who said he had never heard a sermon on paedobaptism.

Godfrey’s lecture is very informative and helpful, a Reformed look at the sacrament of baptism and how baptism can be thought of in terms of our sanctification and assurance.  It is part of a set from the 1981 Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology, and soon I’ll be listening to the other lectures from this conference.

Only One Way: Christian Witness in an Age of Inclusion (Review)

May 20, 2019 2 comments

From my recent reading, here is an interesting read:  Only One Way: Christian Witness in an Age of Inclusion.  A collection of seven essays from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, specifically from the 2005 Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology, the theme of One way covers many Christian teachings, and how Christianity is the One Way:  one among many, one Gospel, one God, one Savior, one Truth, one Way and one People.

As expected from this type of book, the contributions present the different styles and interests of the writers – many well-known and somewhat-known names, with some chapters having more interest (to the reader).  I was familiar with at least the names of most of the scholars, some more well-known such as Al Mohler, D.A. Carson, and J. Ligon Duncan, and other names known from other conference lectures and/or teaching programs available from the Alliance.

I particularly enjoyed the chapters from David F. Wells (One Among Many), Peter Jones (One God), and One Truth (Philip Ryken).  I have previously mentioned Peter Jones from his 2018 PCRT lectures and Ryken in reference to Thomas Boston and a study on the book of Ecclesiastes.  I had not heard or read David Wells before, but found his study on Acts 17 (Paul at Athens and Mars Hill) and post-modernism quite edifying.  Richard D. Phillips’ chapter on One Savior is another good one, which points out that one Savior is indeed sufficient, just as water from only one spring to a man dying of thirst and only one blood-marrow donor match to a man dying of cancer, are sufficient.

Post-modernism, especially the emerging church, was a big online discussion topic back in the mid-2000s, more so than now, and familiarity with the issues of that time provides greater appreciation of some things mentioned in these chapters.  When David Wells noted that “Some evangelicals have tried to see in Luke’s account [Paul in Athens, Acts 17] an example of how Paul was able to exploit the culture for the sake of the gospel. What they mean is that he was able to capitalize on their cultural habits in order to ‘sell’ the gospel,” we can well recall a particular controversial figure at a mega-church in Seattle during that time, and appreciate Wells’ response, “They could not be more wrong! What we see is Paul confronting his culture, not trying to use it. This is evident from the fact that he starts not with the gospel itself but with that culture’s competing worldviews—each one of which he demolishes.”

An important point brought out by Wells, is the necessity to start with the understanding of the Christian God, even more so than the gospel as a starting point:

The gospel, after all, is not a disembodied message that can be assimilated into just any worldview. Rather, it comes within its own understanding of the world, outside of which the gospel makes no sense at all. It is true that, without believing the gospel, Paul’s hearers [in Acts 17, Paul at Athens] would not know the God from whom they were alienated because of their sin and because of God’s righteous indignation against that sin. It is also the case, however, that without an understanding of God as Creator and Judge, Paul’s hearers could not understand the gospel. It is to the Christian God that Paul takes his hearers first, and he takes them there before he takes them to the gospel.

Peter Jones’ chapter, One God, addressed the familiar subject from the more recent conference (previous post referenced above), with emphasis on the pagan, polytheistic challenge.  He includes many references (with footnotes) to recently published pagan-promoting books and pagan-influence events in the public sphere, observing that:

Ideas have consequences.  One generation after the publication of The New Polytheism, we saw the publication of Omnigender: A Trans-religious Approach … which describes the unraveling of single-minded, monotheistic thinking in our society.  We now have two kinds of marriage—straight and gay—and acceptance of a third arrangement—polygamy—cannot be far behind.  Polytheism immediately gives us polysexuality.  In similar ways, polytheistic thinking is extending its influence in every category of human life. …Many Christians will be surprised to learn that the chief doctrinal attack in our time is directed not against the inspiration of Scripture or the deity of Christ, but against the doctrine of God.  The very denial of God is one of the chief obstacles to our preaching the gospel today.

Phillip Ryken’s chapter on “One Truth” also includes great points and great quotes regarding propositional truth.  Starting from John 18:37-38, which contains Pontius Pilate’s famous response to Jesus, “What is truth?” and the challenge of post-modernism and relativist instead of absolute truth, Ryken notes the limitation of looking only at the story, an incomplete picture of reality.  Post-modernism focuses on the story, on the narrative, but we do not get the complete picture of the gospel solely from the narrative accounts in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. As the introduction to the book of Acts notes, the New Testament work was only begun by Jesus during His earthly ministry.  It was also necessary for the apostles to continue the work, to write the many epistles that provide the interpretation behind the narrative events and present the propositional truths of doctrinal teaching.

In order for the gospel to have this transforming effect, it needs to be explained. Stories are not self-interpreting. Therefore, God has given us a true theology to explain the gospel story. The Gospels are followed by long doctrinal letters that teach basic truths about God and his salvation, and it is characteristic of these letters to give us truth in the form of propositions. As Luther said, ‘There is no Christianity where there are no assertions.’ …. The Bible is full of theological propositions—unchanging truths of the Christian faith.

Also from Only One Way, this well-expressed summary regarding the gospel and doctrine:

Today we often hear that creeds and confessions are outmoded. Rather than defining the Christian faith in terms of its theology, people say, we need to define it in terms of its story. Doctrine is de-emphasized, especially if it deals with difficult or intolerant subjects like sin, judgment, wrath, and atonement through a sacrifice of blood. … But of course this is a false dichotomy. The gospel is relational, because it establishes a reconciled relationship between fallen sinners and a holy God. However, the gospel cannot be relational unless it also gives us true information about God and about us—about Jesus, the cross, and the empty tomb.

These seven chapters in Only One Way are insightful, well-written for the Christian layperson, presenting many good points from scripture along with analysis of our relativist, post-modern and in many ways post-Christian society.  At just under 150 pages, it is not lengthy reading, yet packs in a lot of good content in this relatively short book.

 

Studies on The Lord’s Prayer

April 8, 2019 4 comments

The Lord’s Prayer is a familiar scripture passage, one of the most memorized passages (along with Psalm 23 and a few other verses such as John 3:16).  From Christian contemporary music (when I listened to it in the late 1980s through mid-1990s) two song versions come to mind, from Tony Melendez and Steve Camp.

The Sunday School class has been studying Al Mohler’s book on The Lord’s Prayer (The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down), and so a blog post about this and related resources is fitting.  Mohler’s book is a good layperson resource, with good introductory material, many quotes from Martin Luther (especially his words addressed to his barber, Peter Beskendorf), J.I. Packer and others, and examination of the theology involved in each clause of this prayer (from Matthew 6 and Luke 11).

Classic Puritan recommended resources (from others in online reading groups) include Thomas Watson’s The Lord’s Prayer (free e-book available from Monergism.com) now on my list to read.  Martyn Lloyd Jones’ series through the Sermon on the Mount ,and other expositions on the Sermon on the Mount / The Lord’s Prayer, are also recommended studies.

From the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, the 2002 PCRT conference has an interesting 4-part series with messages by Richard Phillips and Hywel Jones: “Lord, Teach Us to Pray”. Dr. Jones’ three lectures provide exposition of Luke 11:1-13, of the prayer itself and the related parable.  Among the highlights from this series, Hywel Jones exposited Luke 11:1, the introductory words that we usually do not think about, which provide the setting and the fact that Jesus was praying in a certain place and for a specified time.  The Luke 11 account is shorter than the Matthew 6 parallel, but Luke’s version should not be considered incomplete; it has the same basic content that is expanded on in the Matthew 6 version.  This prayer has some similarity, along with important differences, to other 1st century Jewish prayers in its form.  The Lord’s Prayer (a model prayer for us to follow) fits the common pattern, yet includes a personal touch:  the word “Father” and “my” personal father, and that we are to forgive others “as we have been forgiven.”

I do not see these concepts as really absent from the Old Testament.  Throughout the Psalms, Proverbs, and the Prophets, for example, we have many instances of Israel in a corporate relationship with “Our Father,” yet this God is personally prayed to by the psalmist.  Though the Old Testament does not use the explicit terminology found in the New Testament, certainly texts such as in Proverbs point out the need of forgiveness for ourselves as well as extending mercy and kindness (and forgiveness), instead of holding grudges or doing wrong to our neighbor.  Certainly it is true, though, that the gospel texts of The Lord’s Prayer set out clearly the things that are more implied in the Old Testament, as to our prayers and the right perspective.

These lectures provide a good overview of the Lord’s Prayer, with consideration of the two passages (Luke and Matthew) and the overall historical context.   For a more in-depth, book study, Mohler’s The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down is good for basic theology as related to the clauses of this prayer — easy reading, yet very instructive on so many areas of theology.  A sampling of a few quotes:

All we can learn about God from his revelation is designated his Name in Scripture…. A name is something personal and very different from a number or a member of a species. It always feels more or less unpleasant when others misspell or garble our name; it stands for our honor, our worth, our person, and individuality. … There is an intimate link between God and his name. According to Scripture, this link is not accidental or arbitrary but forged by God himself. We do not name God; he names himself. … Summed up in his name, therefore, is his honor, his fame, his excellencies, his entire revelation, his very being. – Herman Bavinck

Prayer and praise are like a bird’s two wings: with both working, you soar; with one out of action, you are earthbound.  But birds should not be earthbound, nor Christians praiseless. – J.I. Packer

Mohler’s book, the PCRT lectures, and the classic Reformed Puritan resources all contribute to a good study on this model prayer, the Lord’s Prayer — a few verses in scripture, yet packed with so much meaning, truths that we can never exhaust and will always be learning and gaining new insights.

Ecclesiastes, The Crook in the Lot, and Vexation (Dr. Philip Ryken Series)

January 7, 2019 Leave a comment

Following up on this previous post, here is a good study series on the book of Ecclesiastes:  Dr. Philip Ryken’s 26-part Ecclesiastes: Why Everything Matters (available from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals).  The study also exists in book form (and Kindle $9.99).

In this great study for Christian living, the great contrast is between life “under the sun” and the higher, Christian reality, how to live in this fallen world in light of the gospel message of the Bible.  Ryken often references other commentators, including the “cynical view” taken by some, while showing the realistic and positive perspective that the author (Solomon) likely intended, the biblical-focused view of verses that can at first glance be thought of in a more negative way.

Especially interesting ‘food for thought’:  Ecclesiastes 7:13, “Consider the work of God:  who can make straight what he has made crooked?” and the lecture “The Crook in the Lot.” Ryken here expands from his study of Puritan (early 18th century) Thomas Boston and his exposition of this verse in The Crook in the Lot; Boston’s work is available in e-book format as well as MP3 audio format from Monergism.  The Crook in the Lot is whatever trouble, whatever suffering and tribulation, that God has decreed for each of us individually to experience.  From Boston:

“Consider the work of God,” namely, in the crooked, rough, and disagreeable parts of your lot, the crosses you find in it. You see very well the cross itself. Yea, you turn it over and over in your mind and leisurely view it on all sides. You look to this and the other second cause of it, and so you are in a foam and a fret. But, would you be quieted and satisfied in the matter, lift up your eyes towards heaven, see the doing of God in it, the operation of His hand. Look at that, and consider it well; eye the first cause of the crook in your lot; behold how it is the work of God, His doing.

Another interesting part is Ecclesiastes 11:10, Remove vexation from your heart, and put away pain from your body, for youth and the dawn of life are vanity.  The verse here is directly addressed to young people (referencing those in their youth) yet applicable at all stages of life.  It also relates to both physical as well as mental health.  How can we live wisely, in ways that increase our overall well-being?    Remove vexation – stress, anxiety, negative emotions, and look to God who provides for us.  Ryken mentions a few practical things for Christian living, such as healthy eating, rest, and prayer.  Here also I consider Brad Hambrick’s 50 Good Mental Health Habits, which includes these and many more points, good to print out and keep around to refer to on a regular basis.

Ryken’s teaching on Ecclesiastes is a great Christian living series, relating this wisdom book Ecclesiastes, to how we live in everyday life.  This study considers the verses in Ecclesiastes and their depth of meaning (beyond the superficial worldly life, to speak to the real difficulties in this life) as well as in relation to other scriptures of the Old and New Testament –in verses that teach the same truth as well as the contrast (living “under the sun” versus “set your mind on things above” (Colossians 3:2).  The content in Ecclesiastes is part of the whole Bible, relating to other parts which uphold the unity of scripture—not some outside “Old Testament” thing irrelevant to us in our age.