My heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue: "O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!"

31 March 2006

Examining Theology

Thursday and Friday saw presbytery come and go somewhat quickly. We did good work, I believe; most exciting was the work of the presbytery at planting a church in Atlanta. This is certainly a matter of prayer. Other important work was gauging men's readiness for pastoral ministry through tests. Each "student under care" must undergo ten tests before he's licensed to receive a call, then three more tests before he is ordained. The tests range from theology to personal godliness to history to sermons.

I thought I'd jot down the major questions asked a student last week during a test on theology to give you an idea of what these guys ought to know, what the presbyters (elders) think is important for your pastors to know. It could be a fun way to test yourself. Don't get down if you don't know many - even the students don't answer every question well or at all.

1. What classes in systematic theology have you taken?

2. If someone called the church and asked, "What do Reformed Presbyterians believe?" how would you answer?
3. How would you explain the doctrine of the Trinity to an 8 year old?
4. What are the five solas of the Reformation and can you support each with Scripture?
5. How is the idea of covenant foundational to God's Word and what are the covenants of Scripture?
6. What is sanctification?
7. What is double predestination and is it biblical?
8. What is the correct ordo salutis (order of salvation) and why is it important?
9. Is Jesus unique among world leaders and how?
10. What offices does Christ execute as our Redeemer?
11. For whom did Christ die and what did his death accomplish?
12. Can a person lose his or her salvation - why or why not?
13. Which point in TULIP do you find hardest to defend and why?
14. How would you defend the RPCNA practice of having women deacons?
15. What's the value/importance of being a confessional church?
16. How is an understanding of genre important to a proper understanding of the Bible?
17. How would you explain the importance of the church to a leader in a para-church organization who hasn't been in church for a few years?
18. What doctrine is under-emphasized by the RPCNA and why did you pick it?
19. Someone wants to treat you to see The Da Vinci code - what would you tell that person?
20. Literal 6-day creation?
21. Effects of the fall?
22. Speaking in tongues today?
23. Work of the Spirit?
24. Marks of the true church?
25. Biblical reasons for divorce?
26. Man - 2 or 3 part?
27. Yes or no - dispensationalism? Perfectionism? Reality of hell? Open Theism? Regulative Principle of worship? Voting for the lesser of two evils?
28. What are the distinctives of the RPCNA?
29. Why should we sing the Psalms in worship?
30. Why should we sing a capella?
31. What is foreswearing and why is it wrong? (I had to look that up. Foreswearing means to break an oath.)
32. What's our position on secret societies?
33. How would you defend infant baptism to a baptist friend?
34. What happens in the Lord's Supper?
35. How do you and yours keep the Lord's Day?
36. Do you agree with the RPCNA's theology and principles? Any major disagreements?

Questions from the floor (one elder gives the student the majority of the questions, then the rest of the elders have ten minutes to question him further - many times, the questions from the floor seek clarification or greater depth on the questions above):

1. How does the Old Testament inform our worship?
2. What is adoption?
3. What are the privileges of adoption into God's family?
4. Why is the church necessary - how would you defend that to a person in a para-church ministry?
5. What is the Federal Vision and how do you respond to it?
6. What is your eschatology and how did you come to it? What are the other views, along with their strength & weaknesses?

Not very many could answer all these questions. It's a very trying thing, to be examined by so many men you really respect. But in the end I believe it is an important work, the presbytery ensuring (to the best of its ability) that the congregations we oversee are taken good care of.

Would you add any questions to list above? What question would you want every pastor to be able to answer?

30 March 2006

Responding to Agnosticism

You sent some great responses to the local letter to the editor from an agnostic neighbor. Here's a summary of what a few of you might say: this "moral compass" that this gentlemen assures us he has (and we can believe him), how is it directed? Even more deeply, where does it come from (where is your conscience from)? Well said.

Ultimately, committed agnostics must be committed pragmatists. Because they confess to an eternal inability to know the truth about God, they must make decisions based on what can be absolutely proved by the evidence. From the New Dictionary of Theology:

...agnosticism is based on an ethic of belief which requires that only those propositions should be believed for which there is sufficient evidence...Agnosticism in fact, if not in name, is one consequence of Kant's arguments about human knowledge being bounded by the categories of time and space. God, beyond time and space, is the unknowable.

Thus, agnostics are determined to deal with the knowable. Which begs the question of our agnostic friends: How is morality knowable to you? Our letter-writer is right in saying that we shouldn't assume that morality is limited to Christians. Problem is, he's borrowing from a Biblical thought-system when he even brings up the issue of morality. One way to go, then, would be to press him on his idea of morality: What is right and good? What makes right and good, right and good? If he's consistent, his morality must be based on pragmatism, on what works...which leads down another fun trail. Now from R.C. Sproul, Jr.'s Tearing Down Strongholds:

The problem with pragmatism as an epistemology - with deciding that truth should be determined by what works best - is that it just doesn't work. It begins with an impossible teleological hill to climb. It cannot answer the obvious question, "Works for what?" How do we answer this question without already having a true standard of what our goal is?...There is no route available to the pragmatist to discover what route we all should be on...Pragmatism is, in short, amoral. It cannot provide any sort of ethic at all.

After this, then, what do we do? If we are able to expose the folly of pragmatism, thus the emptiness of agnosticism, where have we left him? After we tear down a stronghold, we must build up the stronghold of the gospel in his eyes. We might give this man our testimony of God's grace triumphing over our. We might tell him of Jesus' statement that He came for the sinners, not for the righteous. Ultimately, my neighbor's problem isn't agnosticism, it's self-righteousness. He believes himself to be a good, moral person. As long as he believes this, he will have no need for Christ. What he needs is to see how he measures up (or doesn't) to God's law and the greatness of a religion that's based on what another's done, not what we do.

Tim Keller has commented before that Christianity, distinct from all other religions, isn't spelled D-O. It's not about what we do. It's spelled D-O-N-E; it's about what Christ has done in our place. This is what my neighbor needs to hear!

Here's what my dad wrote:

Christianity isn't about outward appearances. It's about the new creation within. No matter how good we look on the outside, we can never be anything but "whitewashed sepulchres" if God hasn't regenerated us.

It's true that the Christian's every thought and action should be captive to the will of our Saviour and that the world IS watching us. But it's also true that we recognize that we will stumble and fall and that we have a heavenly Father who is faithful and just to forgive our sins.

So I guess my response to the gentleman who wrote the letter is yes, those who have a faith and love for God are not the only ones who may have a moral compass. My only questions is this: without God, ultimately, in what direction is this gentleman's moral compass pointing?

28 March 2006

Morality without God

This letter to the editor was in our local paper today, and I think it's one the church needs to hear and find a good answer for. It's an honest letter and one which cuts to the heart of how Scripturally we view people.

How would you respond to this man? I'll try to put some thoughts down tomorrow, but I'd like to hear how you might talk to him.

Some people have this strange misconception that if one lacks religious faith then he or she also lacks a moral compass. Those who believe that should consider this.

One's faith in and love for God should not be the only reason that they live as a moral person. There are benefits and costs directly related to our actions right here in the objective world we know. I am a moral person in a loving and faithful marriage. I have countless friends and no known enemies. I work a full-time job. I even get along great with my mother-in-law.

Yet, I can't remember the last time I considered God when making a decision. As an agnostic, I do not feel conflicted within myself, I am not "lost," I do not lie, cheat, or steal simply because I am unsure about the existence of God.

Those who are religious can certainly use their faith as motivation and their God as inspiration, but they should not assume that morality is limited to those of us who share their views.

Some links

Hope your week is going well. Here are some interesting links:

The "articles" page at Banner of Truth magazine. Looks like a great resource. is another huge resource. Compiled by folks at Calvin College, it is a wonderful collection of writings that have been used by God in the church throughout the centuries. It has vast collections of writings by the church fathers, by the reformers, and by many Puritans. Well worth bookmarking for Bible study use (esp. Calvin's commentaries).

Ever wondered why a word is the word it is? The online etymology dictionary can help. I use this fairly often in preparing sermons.

For great fun: flipbook! You can create your own online flipbooks (or look at others').

27 March 2006

Happy Birthday to #2!
(Happy Anniversary to Aunt Alicia & Uncle Zach!)

24 March 2006

Spring Break

What a fine looking group! This was taken by David Hart, as he skied past us to the bus.
Are you aware of the latest astounding culinary development? Neither was I, until I came home last night to find our candy dish filled with a new type of jelly bean. Now, I'm a fan of most jelly beans; in fact, I can't remember meeting a jelly bean I didn't like, but this is different. These are Sweet Tart Jelly Beans! Being a fan of most things sugar, especially of sweet tarts (bet I can finish a roll faster than you), I am now publicly proclaiming my jelly bean devotion belongs to sweet tarts alone. You can have your jelly bellies and jolly ranchers and even the old-school brach's jelly beans. Me and my sweet tart jelly beans will be just fine.

There's a dish on my desk, if you want a few. But you should probably hurry.

23 March 2006

Book Review - Spinning

The Wages of Spin
by Carl Trueman
190 pgs., paperback

Carl Trueman is a professor of historical theology at Westminster seminary in Philadelphia, PA, as well as one of the regular contributors at Reformation21. This book is a collection of theological essays and thoughts. The first half consists of six larger essays and the second half of six "short, sharp shocks."

In the first three essays, Trueman
prods and deals with the current tendency toward abandonment of good, systematic theology. He argues that the reformed tradition has historically taken seriously God as a God of words (as well as the Word), and has taken seriously history and tradition:

...the Reformation represented, in terms of theological culture, a move from the visual, aesthetic, and sacrament-centered theology to a word-based theology, where the written scriptures and the oral, preached word stood at the centre of belief and practice

In the third essay, Trueman has some great theses for the academy and for the church, both of whom need to regain their traditional, theological inheritance.

Chapter four and five are reflections on classic Princeton theology, generally, and B. B. Warfield, specifically. While these are essays somewhat difficult to wade through, Trueman does a fine job not only re-introducing me to Warfield, but pleading with other academics to do their homework before they write essays. It's good to hear a theologian call other theologians to task and to be reminded that just because something's in a book or pretentious-sounding journal doesn't make it so. The second Warfield essay has some interesting notes on the kenosis theory of the incarnation (how much of himself did Christ "empty"?). Warfield did a good job, it seems, at maintaining Christ's humanity, deity and inherent glory by using good theology and thought-out language.

The final essay in the first half is on a new Finnish take on Luther and Melanchthon. That's right, Finland, Lutheran theology, and somewhat obscure Lutherans. Yep, I should've skipped this one.

But...the next section of shorter writings is outstanding. Especially good were the essays, "What Can Miserable Christians Sing?" and "The Marcions Have Landed!" In the first, Trueman argues that:

the exclusion of the experiences and expectations of the psalmists from our worship - and thus from our horizons of expectation - ...has in a large part crippled the evangelistic efforts of the church in the West and turned us all into spiritual pixies. By excluding the cries of loneliness, disposession, and desolation from its worship, the church has effectively silenced and excluded the voice of those who are themselves lonely, dispossessed and desolate, both inside and outside the church.

As far as I know, Trueman is not an convinced advocate of exclusive psalmody, which may make his point even more poignant: the psalms are the most realistic songs we can sing. By focusing almost exclusively on happy-happy praise songs, many modern churches leave the depressed and the hurting without a song to sing from their heart and, however inadvertently, portray a picture of Christianity that is not consistent with Scripture.

Then, in "The Marcions Have Landed!" Trueman accuses much of the Western church of succumbing to the ancient heresy of Marcion, who pitted the Old Testament God of hate against the New Testament God of love, all the while seeking to cut out huge sections of Scripture which didn't "fit" with his system. The church does this, according to Trueman, by emphasizing God's love to the exclusion of his other characteristics and by neglecting the Old Testament in theological reflection and devotional lives. Again he promotes more psalm-singing:

It astounds me, given the over-whelming use of psalms as central to gathered worship in the first four centuries, the absolute importance given to psalmody for the first two centuries of the post-Reformation Reformed churches, and the fact that the book of Psalms is the only hymn book which can claim to be universal in its acceptance by the whole of Christendom and utterly inspired in all its statements - it astounds me, I say, that so few psalms are sung in our worship services today. Moreover, often nothing seems to earn the scorn and derision of others more than the suggestion that more psalms should be sung in worship...I am left wondering which parallel universe these guys come from, where the most pressing and dangerous worship issue is clearly that people sing too much of the Bible in their services. How terrifying a prospect that would be! Imagine: people actually singing songs that express the full range of human emotion in their worship using words of which God has explicitly said, "These are mine!"

The book ends with a defense of systematic theology, a plea for less busy-ness and more boredom, and a wake-up call for anyone who thinks homosexuality is the "big issue" facing the church today (it's good to be reminded that homosexuality is a symptom, sign of judgment, not just a reason to be judged).

The Wages of Spin was a good, if occasionally dense, theological read. I don't expect many people to pick it up, but pastors and elders would especially do well to check themselves according to Trueman's view of the Western church's current state. It's written with a little bit of sauciness, which makes the dense theology go down somewhat more easily. Overall, a good book with some sections that I've already copied to put in my files.

22 March 2006

Church Planting - Standing on Shoulders

For the past couple days I've been using a coffee mug from the church that reads:

"Reformed Presbyterian Church of West Lafayette: 25 years of Serving & Sending. Charter Member." It's sort of an ever-present, caffeinated reminder that I am neither a pioneer nor a pilgrim in my position as a church planter. (For those of you who don't know, our church has since relocated to become the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Lafayette and a group of us are now heading toward church planting back in West Lafayette. The original church was planted in 1968.)

A couple weeks ago, we went to Michigan to attend the funeral of the original church planter of the West Lafayette RPC, Ray Joseph, who, I'm thankful to say, baptized my dear wife back in the day. He was far more of a pilgrim and pioneer than I. He arrived here with much sacrifice and little fanfare and was used by God to found a church that is flourishing today due, in part, to his faithful planting and watering.

After Pastor Joseph, the current (most senior) pastor, Dave Long, arrived, and has been here for well past 2 decades. Through his passion for discipleship and his faithful, loving ministry to the saints, the church has continued to grow. I, for one, am part of that growth. When my wife came to Purdue, she rejoined the church of her youth and dragged me, kicking and screaming, into the church by marrying me. For which I am forever grateful. Much of my training came from Dave, both directly and by observation.

And now here we are, ready (d.v.) to plant another church in West Lafayette. We're trying a different tack than has been used by many RP churches elsewhere: instead of sending one or two families, we're hoping to send up to 15 families out of our congregation. Less like planting a seed than planting a whole branch. When I get to tell people how we're going about things, I often grin and admit, "It feels like we're cheating." But it's not really. It's more like standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before, reaping the harvest of their ministry and replanting it.

Through some recent counseling and sermon prep, I keep coming back to the ridiculous independence of many Christians. Lone Ranger Christians are dead ranger Christians, they say. It's as true in our spiritual disciplines and encouragements as it is in church planting. To view ourselves as distinct or separate from the saints of the ages is to not only lose some of our heritage, but also some of our connection to the God of the ages. How blest we are to benefit from the cloud of witnesses, both living and dead. As we were humbled on the day of our salvation to admit that nothing good came from us and we desperately and totally needed another, may God continue to drive from us the spirit of independence and pride. May we be glad to stand on shoulders.

Psalm 78:1-3
Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth!
2 I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old,
3 things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us.

21 March 2006

Psalms - the eyes have it (123)

ESV Psalm 123
To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
2 Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he has mercy upon us.
3 Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt.
4 Our soul has had more than enough of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud.

Spring 2006 Psalm of the Quarter

Theme Because of the world and your own sin, look to God first as our sovereign King, then as our Merciful Father.


1-2 Our eyes This song begins with a confession and a promise. We, the singers, confess to God that to Him alone we will turn in distress. Why we do this is shown by His title: the one “enthroned in the heavens” – we turn to God rather than ourselves or other parts of this world because Christ alone is the reigning King. Notice, though, that this is a promise of something we do, we promise to lift our eyes to God. It is a fact of life that hard times will come (as reflected later in this song), but what we do then is determined, in part, by what we decide now. Have you decided to turn to God alone for help? Have you made this commitment, to lift your eyes to God?

We aren’t left wondering how we ought to lift our eyes; we have in verse 2 two examples of how our focus on God takes shape. We lift our eyes (1) like a servant’s eyes watches his master’s hand and (2) like a maidservant’s eyes watches her mistress’ hand. What does this mean? How do servant’s eyes look to their master’s hands? Charles Spurgeon lists seven “how’s” of looking to God: reverently, obediently, attentively, continuously, expectantly, singly, submissively, imploringly. We look to God, waiting for any command to obey, any Word to hear, any encouragement to receive and then, like good servants, we act immediately.

3-4 His mercy The second half of the psalm shows that we aren’t voiceless, mute servants who aren’t allowed to speak in their master’s presence. Rather, we are servants who are also considered sons and daughters and through Christ we have a way to cry out to God. What is the content of our cry in this fallen world? “Have mercy on us!” Because of our sin, have mercy on us. Because of the pressures and enemies of the world, have mercy on us. Because the burdens our souls carry, have mercy on us.

Asking God for mercy, rather than simply favor, implies that we don’t deserve it. But this is what God specializes in: providing grace to the undeserving, the pitiful and helpless. If our confidence in God and His answer is based on something, anything, we do rather than on the character of God and the work of Jesus Christ, despair becomes the only option. But if we believe the amazing mercy residing in God’s heart and cry out for mercy, He will hear us, because it is what He loves to do. When dealing with His people, mercy is God’s first inclination, His first instinct.

Application Learn to cry out for God’s mercy. To figure out why you/we need it, look around at a world that wars against the church, then look inward to see how greatly we deserve God’s wrath rather than His love. Then, cry out for mercy!


The pictures from the trip are here! Thanks to Zachary Blackwood...I knew I didn't even have to take my camera!

je suis ici

We're back! What a great, great time PurdueCORPS had in Colorado. We left last Friday evening and arrived Saturday around lunch. After lunch on Saturday we split into teams to accomplish some work projects around the Westminster RP church. Sunday half the students and I stayed in Denver so I could preach at the Westminster church. The most senior took the other half down to Colorado Springs, where he preached for the Springs church. What should have been an hour and a half return drive turned out to be four and change due to inclement weather.

On Monday morning, we started our mini-conference, titled "seeking extraordinary character." For the first time, Pastor Long and I led this. We did four in-depth character studies: we first studied Moses and humility; second, we looked at Nehemiah and leadership. Third, we studied Peter and kingdom-vision. We ended up studying Daniel and faithfulness. We were quite encouraged by the great applications the students got out of the studies; please pray that God would cement these applications into our lives!

Monday afternoon we spent playing with homeschooled students in a nearby gym. It was quite the raucous and fun time. Then after dinner we went ice skating. I think that will be my last ice skating venture for a while. Not only am I pretty bad, but my incredible flat feet cramp up in rebellion whenever I ice skate. I was, however, pleasantly surprised at the skating grace of some of our young ladies (alas, the guys tried but are lacking gracefulness). Tuesday afternoon we went hiking at Eldorado National State Park. It was a great, sunny hike - in five or six inches of fresh snow. So after we changed our socks and shoes, we went to a fun Mexican restaurant.

Wednesday and Thursday were our days of skiing at Winter Park; Wednesday night we stayed at a great and fairly cheap lodge forty minutes down the road. The first morning was great, but the afternoon turned quite wintry and snowy and cold. Though I did feel quite manly with a freshly-caked beard of snow. The second day, however, was quite possibly the most perfect day for skiing ever. It was warm and sunny with fresh snow everywhere. Despite a twisted knee, thrown shoulder, lost snowboard and more spectacular spills than we could count, everyone in the group had a good time. Most impressive were Graeme (our interning Australian) and his father, both of whom outskied us without breaking a sweat.

So we have lots of reasons to give thanks to God - especially for no van troubles (rather amazing if you had seen one of the vans we used). What really made the trip great, though, were the students who went. It's great to see God working in them to love His Word, to love each other, to love serving others, and to love having fun.

Plus, on the way back home, I got to sing Spin Doctor's "Two Princes" at the top of my lungs for the youngsters who hadn't heard it yet.

In the end, a great trip, but it was also great to get home. I missed my family. I think the kids grew while I was gone.


I think most people know, but here's a public announcement of Olivetti baby #3 on the way. He/she should be joining us on the outside sometime this September. God is good!

07 March 2006

The Pillar

Here's the sermon from Sunday morning on Proverbs 23:



It's shaping up to be quite the busy week. The most senior pastor and I are heading out with the college students this Friday for a week in Colorado, spent working, studying, and skiing. It's amazing how much planning goes into trips like these; it's really a gift of Dave's to organize and set these kind of things up. I'm a little frightened that I'm going to have to do it on my own someday; but I guess we all grow up.


Church planting update: things are going quite well in our Wednesday night core group. Each week we spend time studying the Scripture's teaching on the church, training in evangelism and outreach, praying, and planning/brainstorming together.

Last week we studied 1 Timothy 3:15 where Paul almost brashly proclaims that the church is the pillar of the truth. It almost seems like God made a mistake; surely He should have entrusted something as important as the truth to someone or something other than the church. But even thinking that, even my surprise that God would choose the church to be the foundation and the herald of the church, shows how little I believe Scripture's promises of Christ's bride. The gates of hell can't stand against us. Really?

Very helpful that Paul is, though. He doesn't just make the proclamation and leave us wondering what to do with it. The context of v. 15 is Paul's concern that Timothy understand the nature of the church in order to direct her everyday life rightly. Consequently, both letters to Timothy contain valuable help us in being a faithful pillar:
  • Most of 1 Timothy 3 is concerned with the qualifications of those who would lead the church. Lest anyone look at these lists and see legalism or severe strictness, Paul then lands the truth that we are the pillar of truth. If we are God's chosen method of preserving and presenting the truth, the first we way we do this is by electing and ordaining faithful leaders.
  • 1 Timothy 6:3,4 teach us what to do when someone comes along and begins teaching something contrary to the doctrines of grace. Simply put, the church is a faithful pillar when she practices church discipline, especially upon teachers of false doctrine. This is why we're Presbyterian: without the protection of the other elders, it would be frighteningly easy for me or other preachers to lead whole churches away from the truth. We need men guarding the people from a bad pulpit and guarding the pulpit from a fickle people.
  • In 2 Timothy 1:13, Paul exhorts Timothy to follow the pattern of sound words that Timothy received from Paul. To be a faithful pillar, we must follow the pattern of sound words handed down over the centuries in the church. This indeed begins and ends with Scripture, but we ought to be conversant with the great creeds and theologians of the past. Through biblical and systematic theology, we hold fast to the pattern of the words, not just the words themselves.
  • Paul proclaims in 2 Timothy 2:19 that God's foundation will always stand. What is that foundation? The sovereign, saving knowledge of the Lord. Or, to put it in more theological and explosive language, the foreknowledge and election of God. The church is a faithful pillar when she recognizes the sovereignty of God in the salvation of sinners, that sinners will only be saved when they are elect from all eternity to eternal life.
  • 2 Timothy 3:16 stands out as the New Testament's most important verse on Biblical revelation, that all Scripture is breathed out by God and useful for every spiritual need. To be a faithful pillar, we must hold passionately, submissively, boldly, and steadfastly to the Word of God. We must be people who know the stories of Scripture, who love to memorize it and sing it, who dread going to bed and realizing we haven't soaked in God's Word that day.
  • Finally, in 2 Timothy 4:3-5, Paul commands Timothy to be faithful in his work (as a preacher and evangelist), despite the distractions and divisions that may and will come. Paul promises that a time would come when people only want to hear preaching which makes them feel good (every generation has its Joel Osteen), and when people will wander away into myths (every generation has its Da Vinci Code). What are we to do when people turn against us, turn against the preaching of the Word? Continue faithfully in our calling, enduring suffering for the glory of God.
Certainly other parts of Scripture inform how we are to be the pillar of the truth. But these are a good start!

04 March 2006

Random thoughts

A tribute to some things Italian: boy, they make fast cars. Watch this video with the volume to 11.

Even cooler: Google is posting national archive videos, like this newsreel from WWII.


MC Hammer has his own blog. I don't know whether to feel old or young or sad or happy. Please Hammer, don't hurt me.


Library book sale in Lafayette: Looking through the "religion" section, it is astounding the amount of soul-crushing, pseudo-Biblical, wordy ridiculousness that passes for Christian. And then I found Studies in Theology by Boettner and the sun shined a little brighter.

I'll be back on Monday for the $1-bag day.

02 March 2006

Lent and Preaching

Lent has begun; the forty day preparation for the Holy Week, culminating in Easter. Although typically regarded as a Roman tradition, lent is making inroads into many protestant churches (see the last couple posts from Greg Wilbur). As I read the lent article at wikipedia, my animosity toward the event is lessening somewhat. To seek to join Christ in His sufferings is indeed biblical (2 Cor. 1:5), as is renewing one's vigor toward spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting, and giving to the poor.

The internal conflict comes, though, when I hear from real people. At the coffeeshop this morning, several people were discussing what they're "giving up for Lent." "I'm giving up bagels - hope that doesn't hurt your business!" "I'm giving up smoking." And then questions about the details: "Do our children have to fast between meals on Ash Wednesday?" "Why fish and not meat? Isn't fish just underwater meat?"

If, by fasting for forty days from a beloved vice, a person leads himself to believe that he is either approximating or earning the sufferings of Christ on his behalf, he is living blasphemy. Will you, by your giving up television or smoking or meat, come close to what Christ gave up when the second person of the Trinity subjected Himself to separation from His Heavenly Father? Or will you, by eating fish instead of steak, somehow earn more favor from God - "Look at how serious I am now!"? If used wrongly, lent becomes another list to check for us inveterate spiritual list-checkers; we are born legalists and my take on the modern practice of lent is that of another way for us to feel good about ourselves before God - instead of feeling bad enough to cling only to the risen Christ.

Christ's sacrifice and sufferings are meant to be participated in, but never to be copied. If you like the idea of Easter and Lent, fine and good - but realize that the work of Christ is meant to make us put off sin, not bagels. We are led by Christ to put our old selves to death everyday, not just these forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. If we are reminded to fast and pray more, great! If we are reminded of the scandalous sufferings of God the Son on our behalf, wonderful! If we are given to legalism, let us put a knife to our throat. If we in any way defame the work of Christ, let us repent of our own righteousness.


Preaching - Pure and Simple
Stuart Olyott

We had the privilege of hearing Stuart Olyott speak on preaching from the gospels last May at the Banner of Truth conference. It was amazing to see so many men of God awestruck by the simplest stories from the life of Christ. So, when I found his book on preaching, and heard a strong recommendation from a friend, I picked it up.

This is, far and away, the best book I've read on preaching. There are a lot of good books out there, but this little one seems to get the whole package and hit me square between the eyes while it does so. Olyott covers the basics of conviction - what ought preachers to believe about what they're doing. Do I really come to my sermon prep with a sense of wonder that God, the Living God (!), has revealed Himself in a book?? Do I pray as much as I should as I prepare to bring to people the foolishness of the cross? With these questions and many more, I was reminded of what I already believed, but surely don't believe strongly enough, about preaching. What an amazing calling it is to bring the truth of the Risen Christ to His people!

Obviously, this isn't a book designed for everybody, but since some pastors read this sight, I'm happy to give them my strongest recommendation that they buy this book. In fact, if you're a pastor or seminary student, I'll even buy it for you. Just shoot me an email. (By the way, the picture on the book cover is a guy casting a net. Not entirely obviously at first.)