Entries Tagged as 'Theology'

Dr. Mohler “On Faith”, Atheism, and an Onslaught Against Christianity

picDr. Mohler has recently produced several works on the topic of faith. He has recently been asked to participate in a panel discussion over different topics of faith. The group discussion is called “On Faith” and is being presented through Newsweek magazine and The Washington Post. The first topic of conversation is “If some religious people believe they have a monopoly on truth, then are conversation and common ground possible? If so, what would be the difficulties and benefits of such a conversation?” The panel includes many notable names including Desmond Tutu, Sam Harris, Richard Land, Brian D. McLaren, and Cal Thomas. Dr. Mohler's answer is entitled "Telling the Truth about Truth."

 Dr. Mohler also composed two articles on the topic of Atheism at his website. He states that “2006 has been a big year for atheism.” He writes in his blog an article entitled “No Conflict Between Science and Religion?” and in his commentary section “The New Atheism?” In the blog article Mohler focuses in on a recent conference on the topic of science and religion held at Salk institute for Biological Studies. Mohler states that “Evidently, the event was an opportunity to declare open warfare on belief in God.” Dr. Mohler states on his site that

“The New Scientist described the meeting as an evangelistic rally for disbelief in God: It had all the fervour of a revivalist meeting. True, there were no hallelujahs, gospel songs or swooning, but there was plenty of preaching, mostly to the converted, and much spontaneous applause for exhortations to follow the path of righteousness. And right there at the forefront of everyone's thoughts was God.”

In his commentary he writes of a recent cover story from WIRED on the topic of a rising New Atheism. Dr. Mohler points out from the article that “In ‘The New Atheism,’ WIRED contributing Editor Gary Wolf explains that this newly assertive form of atheism declares a very simple message: ‘No heaven. No hell. Just science.’” The article from WIRED focuses on three prominent Atheists (whom Gary Wolf interviewed for much of his article), and the article is quick to point out that these men not only don’t believe in God, they also are evangelists for this non-religion. These three men are Richards Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett.

 Dr. Mohler’s articles are very insightful and worth reading sense vitriolic atheism seems to be on the rise and will become more prevalent. We are made more keenly aware of the assault the post-modern culture is making on Christianity. We must be steadfast in our convictions and in our knowledge of the “faith once for all delivered to the saints.” We realize that we do not hope that people will come to believe in some abstract, Supreme Being, but we hope that they will come to have an intimate knowledge of the God who became flesh. We hope for their belief in the God who bore the cross and our sins in His own body and the God who provides salvation and relationship through that mediator. Understanding that God says in Psalm 14 “The fool says in his heart, ‘there is no God’ they are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.”

 Dr. Mohler sums it up best at the end of his blog by asserting that “Right there at the forefront of everyone's thoughts was God? Yes — inevitably so — even at a forum held to declare his non-existence.” We must understand that we are not righteous, we do not seek after God, but we do serve a savior who, “came to seek and to save that which is lost”. A savior who came to bring light to the dark and the dark has not understood this light. We realize through grace we have had this “Light” revealed to us, even as we pray for those that are blinded and unable at present to see the Light of the World. 
 

 

Reading the Bible Christocentrically: Part 2

Tombs of Jerusalem's Kings2 CHRONICLES 14-16: ASA 
 
 When reading a narrative a reader must look for clues, themes, etc that foreshadow what will happen at the end of the story. After reading the whole story, those clues and themes make greater sense, and are read in light of the rest of the story. When reading stories like Romeo and Juliet, The Odyssey, or The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, etc we do not dissect the earlier episodes without putting them in the context of the entire story. It would be like analyzing act two of Romeo and Juliet without seeing the clues and themes that foreshadow the tragic movement of the plot. The same must be done when reading the OT, because there are "clues" and themes that point forward to fulfillment in Christ. Recently I preached through several of the OT kings, and Asa was one king that I looked at.

ASA

 The story of Asa is found in 2 Chronicles 14-16. Asa begins as a righteous king who does "good and right in the eyes of the Lord (14:2)." The land is quiet and at rest under his kingship, and even when Zerah the Ethiopian marches against Asa with a million man army, he is defeated. Asa is granted a miraculous victory from God and rest because he trusts in the Lord and cries out to Him for deliverance (14:11-12). This is the fulfillment of Yahweh's promises to David (2 Sam 7). David's sons are to be warrior-kings who fight for His people, in dependence upon God. God promises to cut off David's enemies and give rest to the people and the land. David's Son will be a Son of God (i.e. Adam, ruling as God's representative). There is conditionality. When David's sons are disobedient they will be chastened with the rod. When they are faithful there will be blessings of power, peace, etc. Asa's humble dependence upon Yahweh as a faithful son is already bringing those blessings.

 A prophet, Azariah, comes to Asa and preaches to him. He tells Asa that "The Lord is with you while you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you." The King is the representative head for the people. When the kings are faithful the nation is blessed. When the kings are unfaithful the nation is cursed (i.e. sins of Manasseh eventually responsible for the exile). The head-body relationship of King Jesus with his church is not something that just shows up in the NT. The King embodies the nation as its head. So, there is ALWAYS a need in Israel for a king who obeys God wholly (i.e. who seeks Yahweh and does not forsake Him) so as to bring victory and peace for the people. Asa applies Azariah's preaching and brings religious reform to Judah and removes idolatry. He even removes the Queen Mother. Leithart writes, "Asa is a true disciple, who hates his mother to follow Yahweh (Lk 14:26; Leithart, 1 & 2 Kings, pg. 116)." His reform is bringing a reunification of Israel and Judah (e.g. Ezek. 37), because some from Ephraim, Manasseh, and Simeon see that "the Lord his God [is] with him (15:9)."

 Yet, the story takes a bad turn, where Asa ends up relying on man, not God. King Baasha of Israel comes up against Judah (with a much smaller army than Zerah the Ethiopian). Asa makes a treaty with Syria, giving the treasures of the Temple to form an alliance with Ben-Hadad. Syria defeats Baasha and Israel. It is not stated why Asa relies on Syria rather than God. Two possibilities as I see it: 1) He thought he could handle a smaller army with his own ingenuity rather than God (pride) or 2) He was afraid.

 Hanani, the seer, confronts and condemns Asa for his action. God's judgment on Asa is that from now on war will characterize his kingdom rather than peace (i.e. cursing and chastening of 2 Sam 7). Asa relied on God against the Ethiopians, but in this matter he relied on the King of Syria. How could he do such a thing? "For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him. In this you have done foolishly; therefore from now on you shall have wars (16:9)." Asa is no longer a humble Son of God. He is depending upon man (the arm of the flesh). Asa does not receive the rebuke. He throws Hanani in prison.
      
  Asa ends up getting a foot disease, and the Bible says that "even in his disease he did not seek the Lord, but the physicians (16:12)." A sick king symbolizes a sick nation. All the stability of his earlier reign is gone. Asa actually ends up having his own tomb constructed for himself, and he is buried there after his death in Jerusalem.
      
 Instead of reading this episode merely as an historical portrait of a Davidic King, we should read it as one episode in the big storyline of the Bible. This storyline is dominated with the theme (clues) of the Son of God/David/King of Israel/Messiah. Asa is a messiah, an anointed king. Israel is looking for and needs a faithful Son of David to rise up, who will be loyal to Yahweh, relying on Him only, who will defeat their enemies and bring peace. Yahweh will answer His Son in times of trouble, if the Son will only rely on Him. The problem is that David's sons are loyal and humble and dependent only for a little while. They all fall short, and the people's hopes for a warrior-king lie dead in Jerusalem tombs.
      
  There is a promise that a man will come along who will crush this power of death (Gen 3:15). He will be a Son of David (2 Sam 7), who sits on an eternal throne. Yet, every single king in the OT ends up dead and rotting in their own tombs because the wages of sin is death. Asa starts off so well with victory and peace, relying on God. Yet, he ends up digging his own tomb, where he lies dead, embalmed with spices (16:14).
       
   In the big storyline we see the familiar refrain of a Son of David buried in Jerusalem, and yet you come to the NT and there is a Son of David who does not need his own tomb. He borrows one for three days only. And when the ladies come to embalm him with spices on Sunday morning, as the Jews had done with every other King who died before, all they found were grave clothes because he was not there. Why? Because eyes of the Lord had run to and fro over the whole earth seeking to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart was loyal to Him, and those eyes rested on one man, Jesus Christ. He had every opportunity to rely on the arm of the flesh as Asa had (Wilderness, Garden of Gethsemane, Cross, etc.), but he relied on God. He did not forsake the Lord; he was found by the Lord. God lifted up his dependent child, out of the dust of death, and seated him on a throne where all of his enemies are being put under his feet. He is the warrior king defeating his enemies and bringing quiet to the land (Heb. 2). As this king's great, great, great, great……….Grandfather had written, "Now I know that the LORD saves His Messiah (anointed); He will answer him from His holy heaven with the saving strength of His right hand. Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; But we will remember the name of the LORD our God. They have bowed down and fallen; But we have risen and stand upright (Psa 20:6-8)."

Jon Akin

Reading the Bible Christocentrically

Ark and Dagon Interpreting OT history is often a confusing task for the church. How do you apply Israelite history to the modern church? There have been two dominant attempts to resolve this tension: allegory and historical-grammatical method. Allegory arose mainly with people who deeply believed the OT was of value to the church and about Christ, so they struggled to read it as Christian scripture. Their difficulty over the literal sense of the text led to an allegorical, spiritual interpretation of the text that sought to raise the literal sense to a higher plane. Historical-grammatical method deeply values the literal sense of the text, employing a kind of scientific method to read the text and find out what it meant in its own time. Neither adequately accounts for the complete message of the Bible as a work about Christ. A Christocentric hermeneutic should be used instead of allegory or just historical-grammatical method.

 Both the allegorical approach and the historical-grammatical method generate similar outcomes for the application of OT history. An allegorical approach basically de-historicizes the OT. On the other hand, the historical-grammatical approach can cancel out the OT as Christian scripture because its history meant something to Israel at the time, but it is difficult to see how it applies today. Those who subscribe to this kind of method usually only see application as learning from history so you do not repeat it (i.e. moralism).

 Can the Old Testament be read in its literal sense and still be of value to a Christian audience? Allegory says, "No," and historical-grammatical method does not know. The Bible answers this question with a "Yes," and that yes is Jesus Christ. The entire OT is about Jesus (Luke 24:27), and all of history points to Jesus (Eph. 1:10). This means that OT history is about Christ and moving towards Christ. Christ is Abraham's seed, so those in Christ are offspring of Abraham, heirs of the Israelite promises, and part of the vine of Israel (Gal. 3:29; Rm. 11). That means that Israelite historiographic literature is Christian historiographic literature. Jewish heritage is Christian heritage in Christ. Therefore, Christians cannot read Israelite history as if they are reading someone else?s mail. In order to read OT history as Christian scripture, the reader must read the narrative Christocentrically. All of the Old Testament is pointing to Christ, and if we are in Christ then it is pointing to us mediated through Christ (1 Tim. 2:5). The Old Testament does not first and foremost apply to the Christian; rather, it first applies to the Christ, and then it is mediated to the Christian. This means a typological, Christological reading of the Bible as a whole. The Bible is one book, and the Old Testament is the first part of that book. The little narratives should not be examined apart from the big narrative. Jesus and the apostles seemed to use this strategy. An analysis of the ark narrative of 1 Samuel 4-7 will demonstrate the deficiencies of allegory and historical-grammatical method, as well as the value of Christocentric reading. 

A. THE BATTLE (4:1-18)

 Israel goes to battle with the Philistines at Ebenezer and is defeated. In Deut. 28 there is a warning of cursing for disobedience. Israel's routing at the hands of the Philistines is described in terms of a covenant curse. How had Israel broken the covenant? In the context of 1 Samuel, the gluttony and sexual immorality of Hophni and Phinehas and Eli's failure to restrain them was one cause for the defeat (3:12-13). Another reason was idolatry (cf. 7:3, Psa. 78:58ff.).

 The Israelites propose to bring the Ark of the Covenant, the presence of Yahweh, into the battle in order to be saved. The ark was there for the victory at Jericho (Joshua 6), so the people try to use it here as a good luck charm. The ark does not help. The Philistines win, take the ark of Yahweh and kill Hophni and Phinehas. Yahweh is being led away captive by a foreign army, and his priests lie slain on the battlefield. When Eli hears about the capture of the ark he falls over backwards and breaks his neck because he is so fat and old. God's judgment has fallen on Eli for his sins.

B. ICHABOD (4:19-22)                                                                                                           

 Eli's daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, is pregnant. When she hears the report she goes into premature labor and gives birth. She dies as a result of the birth, but before she does she names the boy "Ichabod" because the "glory has departed from Israel." The ark, the presence of God, has gone into exile (galah). This word for "departure" is a word used often for the exile of Israel and Judah (2 Kg. 17:6, Isa. 5:13, Jer. 1:3, Ezek. 12:3, etc.). Yahweh is in exile.

D. GOSPEL (5:1-12)                                                                                                               

The Philistines place the ark in Dagon's temple before Dagon, as if to say Yahweh is bowing in defeat to worship Dagon. The next day the Philistines enter the temple to see their god lying prostrate before the ark of Yahweh. Dagon is worshipping Yahweh. The Philistines have to pick their god up (cf. Psa. 115; Isa 46:1-4). When the Philistines enter the temple early the third morning they see Dagon has fallen to pieces. His head and hands are cut off, and he lies on the ground defeated before Yahweh.

Within the larger narrative of the Bible the ark narrative is clearly a foreshadowing of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The warning of the covenant is exile for disobedience (Dt. 28:41-64). The people of Samuel's time deserve captivity and exile. But what happens is surprising. The people are not taken into captivity, but Yahweh himself goes into captivity to "serve other gods, which neither you nor your fathers have known — wood and stone." Yahweh takes the curses of the covenant on Himself. This is a pattern recognizable within the larger narrative. He has been defeated and is forced to serve a foreign god as a captive in exile (i.e. Samson, Manasseh, Israel in Babylon, etc.). Yet, the gospel truth of the New Testament is seen here because Yahweh is a God who brings victory out of defeat and life out of death by substituting Himself for His people. 

 The gospel promise of Genesis 3 is being carried out in a foreign temple. God promised in Genesis 3:15 that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent while at the same time bruising his own heel. From that point forward God started crushing heads, and this points to God's salvation through the seed of the Woman and His victory over the serpent. In Samuel the Philistines wake up on the third morning to the crushed head of Dagon, and in the context of Samuel this anticipates another Philistine head crushing. The seed of the woman, the Messiah, is prefigured in a little shepherd boy who puts his hand in a bag and slings a stone that crushes the forehead of the Philistine champion Goliath (1 Sam. 17:49-51). The humiliated shepherd boy defeats the exalted giant just as the humiliated Yahweh defeats the seemingly victorious Dagon.

This is the gospel of Jesus Christ. God takes on himself the covenant curses and judgments. He substitutes himself for his people. Jesus is taken captive by a foreign army. Jesus is humiliated by the Gentiles. Yet, what seems to be a defeat for Jesus ends up being his victory. He dies on one day. He lies in the tomb on the next. And early in the morning on the third day he is raised from the dead and crushes the head of the serpent. Humiliation leads to victory which leads to exaltation. If one reads the Bible holistically, centered on its fulfillment in Christ, then the ark narrative clearly foreshadows the gospel event. In isolation this passage may look like an historical event that simply shows Yahweh's superiority to the gods of the nations, but in the grand storyline of the Bible this event is much more than a demonstration of Yahweh's superiority. This victory of Yahweh over a god of the nations points forward to THE victory of Christ over the gods of this age at his crucifixion and resurrection. And it is no coincidence that Yahweh gains his victory on the morning of the third day. After the defeat of Dagon, Yahweh attacks the Philistine cities with plagues, tumors. This is a recapitulation of the Exodus. Captivity in a foreign country brings plagues upon the enemies and their gods. The Philistines devise a plan to send the ark away.

F. EXODUS (6:1-18)                                                                                                            

After seven months they decide to send the ark back. The priests warn them not to send it back "empty." This echoes the language of Yahweh's promise to Moses concerning the Exodus, "And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and it shall be, when you go, that you shall not go empty-handed (Ex 3:21)." They decide to send it back with five golden tumors and five golden rats because the Philistines have five major cities. They send the ark back, and it comes to Beth Shemesh.

G. CONCLUSION (6:19-7:17)                                                                                             

Yahweh strikes the men of Beth Shemesh because they look "in the ark of Yahweh." They get rid of it, and the ark ends up staying in Kirjath Jearim for almost a hundred years before David brings it up to Jerusalem, after defeating the Philistines (2 Sam. 6:2). The ark stays in Kirjath Jearim for twenty years until Samuel issues a challenge and the people actually turn back to Yahweh. They do battle with the Philistines and win because Yahweh fights for them.

 A typological, Christological hermeneutic is necessary to read the scriptures. God indeed works in patterns in history. These types find their fulfillment in the anti-type, Jesus Christ. The Bible says that all of God's promises find their "yes" in Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 1:20). One huge pattern of the scriptures is the exodus motif. Israel is in bondage as captives in Egypt. In their humiliation God hears their cries. Israel is born as a nation through the plagues, the Passover and their release. They loot the Egyptians as they leave. In the wilderness they sin against God, and many die under judgment. The following generation, those twenty years and younger, conquer the land of Promise and drive out their enemies. This exodus motif is found in the ark narrative. God's presence is taken away captive to a foreign land. He is forced to serve another god. He defeats the god of that nation. He sends plagues on the land. He plunders them as he leaves. He punishes Beth-Shemesh for their sin (i.e. faithless wanderers in the wilderness). The ark rests comfortably in Kirjath-Jearim for twenty years, and then there is a new conquest of the Promised Land, in which Yahweh fights for His people. The nation is reborn. This cycle will occur again. Sometimes it happens on an individual scale (i.e. Manasseh's exile and return in 2 Chronicles 33:1-20). This motif will occur again on a national scale in the fall of Samaria and the exile of Judah in Babylon. The dead bones of Israel are captive in a foreign land, but there is promise of resurrection, rebirth, and the re-establishment of the kingdom. This fulfillment is seen partially in the return from exile. Finally, the exodus motif reaches its climax in Jesus of Nazareth. Israel continues to be under the rule of a foreign power. They are in exile in their own land. He is arrested by that foreign power, tried, found guilty, and executed. Jesus takes on Himself the covenant curses (Ezek.20:34-37). Then, three days later the dead bones of Israel are raised from the dead. The serpent's head is crushed. The power of death is now overturned. Humanity is released from bondage to death and sin. Jesus (Joshua) leads the exodus from bondage to the curse. He plunders the enemy, and uses those gifts to establish His kingdom (Eph. 4:8-12). The exodus motif will find its fulfillment when the deliverer, Jesus, returns. Even now Christians are exiles in a strange land that is ruled by principalities, powers, and the "Prince of the Power of the Air." Plagues will fall on this present world order (cf. Rev). Jesus will return for His people and lead a new exodus and conquest into a new land of Promise, the new earth. Only a typological reading sees the significant pattern that finds its culmination in Christ Jesus.

 There has always been a struggle in applying OT history to the church. Allegory cancels out history in favor of spiritual reading of the text. Historical-grammatical method analyzes what the text meant, but ends up with moralism as the only way to apply the text, which puts the scripture on same level as Aesop's fables. None of these methods adequately accounts for Jesus' claims that the OT was about him (John 5:39). If one accepts that God works in types in history, and those patterns are fulfilled ultimately in Christ, and then are mediated to those in Him, then one can seek to identify those patterns today and apply the living word of Israelite history to the modern church. Sadly, many (if not most) evangelical interpreters are held captive to Enlightenment reductionism that would elevate modern hermeneutical methods above the methods of Jesus and the Apostles.

Criswell Theological Review and Tongues

As evidenced by events of recent months, the nature of Charismatic gifts has become a front-burner issue in Southern Baptist life. Dozens of scholars, bloggers, and others have publicly weighed in on the issue. Now the good folks at the Criswell Theological Review throw their hat into the ring.

The Fall 2006 edition of CTR will be released next week, but the journal's website already has a couple of the articles available. Of particular interest is an interview with former IMB trustee chairman Tom Hatley, wherein he discusses his perspective on the rationale for the new IMB policies on prayer languages and the controversy surrounding his fellow trustee, Wade Burleson. No doubt there will be a variety of opinions about both the interview and the scholarly articles in CTR, but every Southern Baptist who cares about the present and future health of our denomination should avail themselves of these resources from the folks at Criswell College.

The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World

Desiring God has just hosted its annual National Conference in Minneapolis, MN (Sept. 29-Oct. 1). This year's conference, Above All Earthly Powers: The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World, featured distinguished speakers John Piper, David Wells, Don Carson, Mark Driscoll, Tim Keller, and Voodie Baucham as they addressed Christ's supremacy in this current age and how it relates to  truth, love, joy, the Gospel, and the Church. The generous folks at Desiring God Ministries have posted the conference messages on their website. These promise to be a very valuable resource for all who seek to understand and engage our culture with the powerful message of the gospel.

New Book(s)

Boadman & Holman Publishers has released its first book in a new academic series. The book, God's Indwelling Presence, is written by Jim Hamilton who is a professor at the Houston campus of SWBTS. Check out this post by Russ Moore on the book and the new series.

Richard Fuller on Death

One usually doesn’t find great statements about death while reading a sermon on “Joy in the Lord,” but such was the case for me recently. I was reading a sermon by Richard Fuller, the third president of the SBC, from Series One of Sermons by Richard Fuller, and came across the following passage.

It is a noble spectacle to behold a Christian calmly meeting the last struggle, enduring with patience the pains of a protracted illness, and resigning himself tranquilly to the necessity of dying. But is it thus a Christian ought to die? Oh, no. It is the privilege of every child of God to have a desire to depart and be with Christ which is far better; to long with holy imparience for the Redeemer of his soul; to close his eyes upon the whole world and feel the sublime attractions of eternity; to exclaim, “My soul longeth, yea even fainteth for the courts of theLord, me heart and my flesh crith out for the living God, when shall I come and appear before God?” “Come Lord Jesus, come quickly.” It is the privilege of every child of God not only to rejoice when fig tree and vine and olive wither, but when the whole universe is receding from his vision. Then, when flesh and heart shall be failing, it will be your privilege, Christian, you consolation and joy, to look up and see the heavens opened, to triumph in an Almighty Saviour who is the strength of your heart and your portion forever, to rejoice in the Lord, to exult with transports ineffable and full of glory in the God of your salvation.

Fuller brings up an important distinction. Too often Christians speak of “dying well” as just resigning oneself to death–not whining, not complaining, just dying. Rather, “dying well,” is longing to be with Christ, longing to be free from this life, longing to see one’s God and Savior. “Dying well,” is a privilege that Christians have because of Christ and his work, and it is a privilege of which Christians too often do not avail themselves. We can and should do more than just resign ourselves to death. Even pagans and atheists can do that. The philosopher Epicurus said, “Death, therefore, the most awful of evils, is nothing to us, seeing that, when we are, death is not come, and, when death is come, we are not.” But this stiff-upper-lip kind of resignation to death is not the Christian’s portion. Rather, we have a hope, secure in heaven. We have a righteousness seated at the right hand of the Father. We have a reason to long to be free from this life that the unbeliever does not have. Let us change our thinking so that we long with a holy longing, even from the earliest ages, to be with Christ, which is far better.

Holiness and Holy Writ

Spurgeon's BibleEarlier this week Josh Powell posted Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s famous quote about holiness. Since holiness is such an important attribute for ministers, cultivating holiness is one of the primary concerns that each of us should have as a goal in our lives. We should constantly be striving to reflect the holiness of our Lord Jesus rather than being conformed to the passions of our former ignorance (1 Peter 1:13-16).

So how does we cultivate holiness? How do we begin to live out the holy lives to which we were called? What disciplines that we have help produce holiness in our lives? One of the most important, and most beneficial disciplines that we can pursue is memorizing scripture. One should not be content with merely reading and reflecting upon scripture. Actually knowing it should be our goal. Knowing scripture is vital for preaching, teaching, witnessing, and most importantly, for killing sin. To that end, I would like to recommend two websites that offer two different methods for memorizing scripture.

The first site is the “An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture” section of the First Baptist Church, Durhan, North Carolina. This site gives helpful instructions for how to daily use short periods of repetition to memorize large portions of scripture–even whole books of the Bible–over time. I have known numberous people who found this site beneficial to their souls, and I am thankful for this site.

The second site is the Figure 8 Scripture Memory System website. This system encourages reading and medidtating upon a chapter of scripture eight times a day for eight days. By doing this, one begins to master whole chapters of scripture. The system is a little more detailed than what I have described, so I recommend that you stop by the site and read up on the system.

Both of these sites are extremely valuable resources to believers. If holiness is one God’s goals for us, would we not be wise to avail ourselves of these means to its end?

A Plea for Trinitarian Baptist Worship

Holy TrinityWhen I was in high school and early college, I dated a girl whose father was a ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in the USA. It always irritated him that I was a Baptist preacher boy instead of a faithful Presbyterian. One day my girlfriend asked her dad if he did not like the Baptists because of immersion baptism. He said that he disagreed with Baptists on the issue of Baptism, but that his real problem with Baptists is that they overemphasize Jesus to the detriment of the Father and the Spirit. When she told me this, I was appalled. After all, Jesus is the one who saves us. Jesus is the one we accept as Lord and Savior. Jesus is the one who paid the penalty for sin. Christianity is about Jesus. Right?

As the years have gone by, I find myself more appreciative of this man's critique. Though he and I disagree on many theological issues, I have to concede he was right on this one. In many Baptist churches we talk so much about Jesus (normally in the context of salvation) that God the Father is little more than a distant deity or kindly grandfather and the Spirit is that guy that gets all the Pentecostals so wired up. While I am obviously exaggerating a little, I think many of you would agree that Baptists are not deliberately Trinitarian enough in our worship ministries. And to not be explicitly Trinitarian is to be sub-Christian.

I am not a music minister and I am certainly not a "worship leader" (a term I detest). What I am is a Baptist preacher who has been in enough worship services to know that we too often have a major gap in our theology of worship. The saints may be gathered down at the meeting house, but the Trinity is MIA. To be fair, in any given worship service all three members of the Trinity may be mentioned, but I have met enough Baptists who believe the Holy Spirit is an "it" and not a "He" to know that merely mentioning the members of the Godhead is not the same as teaching people about the Godhead. And in a strange twist of irony, the very mainline churches who so often deny the Trinity are, because of their liturgy, much more Trinitarian in their worship than we orthodox types who still believe that the Lord is "God in three persons, blessed Trinity." So this is a plea for Trinitarian Baptist worship, which by the way, I do not believe necessitates the use of liturgy.

I want to encourage regular preachers and teachers of God's Word to be tireless in your efforts to present God as he really is, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In your preaching, highlight the doctrine when you come across appropriate texts. Take a Sunday a year to preach a doctrinal sermon devoted to the Trinity. Read some of the fine works on the Trinity that have recently been published by evangelical scholars like Bruce Ware and Robert Letham. I would also encourage you to read some of the classic works on the Trinity by great saints who have gone before us. Learn about the Trinity and teach your people about the Trinity. Preach Trinitarian sermons.

I want to encourage those who lead the music ministries of local churches to select songs that emphasize God as the Almighty Three-in-One. Some of the greatest hymns of the faith are explicitly Trinitarian. Many of the newest hymns and choruses emphasize this crucial doctrine. Remember that the songs we sing are as much about catechesis (teaching) as doxology (worship), so pick songs that both exalt the living God and instruct and edify his saints. Sing Trinitarian songs.

I want to encourage those who pray in public services of worship to work hard to make your prayers Trinitarian. When you pray, thank the Father for being the sovereign Lord of life and the Architect of the redemption of this fallen world. Thank the Son for being the promised Messiah, the once-sacrificed Redeemer of the lost and the still to come King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Thank the Holy Spirit for being the one who has sealed us in Christ, who has endued us with spiritual gifts and who empowers us for Kingdom ministry. When you pray, be sure to pray to our Sovereign Lord, the Father, in the power of our great Enabler, the Spirit, through the name of our gracious Mediator, Jesus Christ. Pray Trinitarian prayers.

My prayer is that, whatever your church's "worship style" may be, it will be deliberately Trinitarian, fully reflecting the greatness and majesty of our God. And I make that prayer in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.  

Self-Promotion and the Name of Christ

Do you want your name to be known? Are you pursuing a ministry that you hope will result in the recognition of your name by many? Or, at the very least, do you think that those whose names are written in Christianity's lights, are the most successful? This, no doubt, is a temptation that we all face. Sure, we'd like to think that our intentions to promote the name of Christ are single and pure. But have you ever thought that the recognition that you might receive will result in a greater breadth of ministry? I have.

Recently, I found myself in a situation in which I was reminded of the large numbers of Christians who believe just the opposite. I mentioned the name of one of these people in public document and had to be told to remove it. This was strange to me. It was strange to me to find a person who was not taken in the very least with the opportunity to receive recognition. It was strange to me to see a man who so wanted the name of Christ to be known that he didn't want any mention of his name to hinder that work.

This man is not alone. Right now, all around the globe, there are people who know that if their name is ever recognized in the public sphere, then their ministry and lives are in danger of coming to an end. I'm talking about those serving overseas in regions that cannot be named. These people aren't impressed by titles. In fact, they've reduced their title down to a letter, the letter "m". These saints are so committed to the name of Jesus being known and delighted in among all the nations, that they fear any mention of their name in relation to their work.

This way of life isn't new. Millenia ago, the Apostle Paul informed a struggling church that he was not a superstar Apostle. Rather, he and his followers were "like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things" (1 Cor. 6:13).

Unfortunately, the desire for fame is not new either. Jesus criticized the religious leaders of his day because they gave into the great temptation to delight "in the place of honor" in their culture (Matt. 23:6). Have you ever found yourself secretly enjoying the sight or thought of your name written or announced in papers or from pulpits across America?

If you have, I hope that you will join me in repentance. If you haven't, I pray that you will continue to fight this sinful inclination. Let us be careful to cultivate a longing for the name of Jesus to be lifted high and desire for our names to be put in their proper place. Let us thank God not only for those whose names we know very well, but also for those whose names we will never hear of or read about. Brothers and sisters, let us be a people who are willing to join the Apostle Paul and many today who have become "like the scum of the world" (1 Cor. 4:13). That's not going to fill football stadiums. But then again, we're not looking to fill football stadiums for our praise. We're looking forward to a new creation filled with the knowledge of God like the waters cover the sea. And when this happens, the knowledge of one name will matter, Jesus Christ is Lord.

If you've struggled with this or are struggling with this, what are some ways that you fight this and fight for the name of Christ? How do you cultivate this in your congregations and your homes so that if you were to disappear, your loved ones' focus on the name of Christ would be rock solid?