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 May 2006

Positively Speaking

The last post focused on one possible way to get off-track in our thinking about worship. That is, using worship is a tool to attract unbelievers to Christ sure sounds nice, but ultimately detracts from the greatness of what worship really is: God's covenant people drawing near to Him through Christ in order to raise their voices to Him and be made new in the image of their Savior. As always, more and Biblical thinking on worship will save the church from many pitfalls.

Beyond this, though, my mom spurred me on to think more of the lessons we could learn from the "church growth" corner of the American church. To me, the clearest lesson is the great sense of mission these churches have. If their mistake is making this mission the primary purpose of worship, my mistake might very well be not considering the full extent of the Great Commission. Though we need to reject some of our brothers' methodologies, certainly much work remains for the reformed church to continue thinking Biblically about our outward mission.

Thus a new question for discussion: if our commission shouldn't look like that (see below), what is it to look like?

A first part of the answer might be that our mission ought to look like church planting, not just individual evangelism. How better to follow the Apostle Paul than to see the work of church planting as vital and necessary part of being a church than a side-effort we may or may not engage in, depending on our resources? Toward this, check on Tim Keller's great article: Why Plant Churches?

Go to church & get gas

Thanks to Aunt Sarah, who sent me an article about a church in Arizona offering free gas cards to new members and visitors. Why? To remove a possible excuse for going to church, of course! What happens when your church is so focused on visitors and growth? Your focus becomes your marketing strategy, which this church has in spades.

Putting aside the sarcasm for a moment, this is really, really sad. These people are believers; they love Jesus, they have believed on him for salvation. But they're getting important parts of the church wrong. Lest we put overdue focus on the first church of gas, this is a phenomena that spans our country. Their love for the lost is commendable, and ought to rebuke many of us. But the church doesn't exist for the lost; it exists for our bridegroom. It doesn't exist by our worldly wisdom; it exists by our King's power. What a drastic compromise we have made with the world.

I guess what put me over the edge on this one was this particular church's emphasis on creating a brand. From their website: At The XXXXX, we will create a brand... We desire to be the first “Brand” of church that comes to a non-attender’s mind when thinking of or looking for a church. I would point out here that an emphasis on marketing and "branding" will likely lead to the opposite of their goal: they will turn off those they are trying to reach. This will happen because we've been marketed to our whole life. I don't need another product; I need a church. If you have to sell your church to me, it's a product, not a church. I don't need someone else to pander to me, I need a church that believes God - not me - is the center of life.

Where in Scripture is the purpose of worship to attract - or even minister to - unbelievers? Surely the lost are called to faith by Biblical preaching, but the purpose of worship has never been centered on those outside the covenant. Where in the Bible does God ask us to come up with marketing strategies? How weak is our faith in Christ's promise to build His church that we feel the freedom to push aside the Holy Spirit and buy people into church?

Note: I originally had links in this post to the article and the church's website. I removed them, wanting instead to comment on the problem at-large than simply take pot shots at one church.

30 May 2006


Top ten most expensive things ever purchased on Wow. - I know I've mentioned this before, but I can't imagine why you wouldn't love this! Catalogue all your books online...find others with your passions in reading...let me see what books you have that I can borrow...Here's my library. - a fascinating, scholarly work in aiding those who work in Greek, especially New Testament Greek. Not for everyone, sure, but could be quite the service to preachers.

Soldiers from Lafayette (209th quartermaster company) are heading to Iraq again. Leaving on Memorial Day, they spent time remembering Spc. Luke Frist, of Brookston, who was killed by a roadside bomb their first time around in Iraq.


I'm studying Proverbs 28 the next couple of weeks; since it's a passage focused on justice, I've also undertaken to study the question, "What is justice?" Though I have yet to arrive at a nice, succint definition, Scripture clearly shows that the root of justice is in the character of God (note: not in the "rights" of men). This being the case, a study of justice must begin by meditating on the holy and just character of our God. For this, nothing quite beats reading parts of Stephen Charnock's The Existence and Attributes of God. Here are some great quotes about God's character and its bearing on justice.

Better man should forever bear the punishment of his offence, than God bear the dishonor of his attributes: better man should be miserable than God should be unrighteous, unwise, false, and tamely bear the denial of his sovereignty.

A hatred of unrighteousness, and consequently a will to punish it, is as essential to God as a love of righteousness…he will have an infinite justice to punish whatsoever is against infinite holiness. As he loves everything that is amiable, so he loathes everything that is filthy, and that constantly, without any change; is whole nature is set against it; he abhors nothing but this.

The severeities of God against sin are not vain scare-crows; they have their foundation in the righteousness of his nature; it is because he is a righteous and holy God that he “will not forgive our transgressions and sins”…

God would descend below his own nature, and vilify both his knowledge and his purity, should he accept that for a righteousness and holiness which is not so in itself; and nothing is so, which hath the least stain upon it contrary to the nature of God. The most holy saints in Scripture, upon a prospect of His prutiy, have cast away all confidence in themselves…

25 May 2006

Book Review - New is always better. Right? Right?

Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul
Guy Prentiss Waters
P&R Publishing, 2004

Along with the Federal Vision-ist stuff often comes discussion about the New (!) Perspectives on Paul (NPP). And so the need for a well-researched and thoughtfully written book; Guy Prentiss Waters seems to be the right man for the job. Having all the big letters after his name (MDiv, PHd, etc.), he's also an ordained PCA minister and an assistant professor of Biblical studies at Belhaven College. His qualifications are again boosted by the fact that he studed under E. P. Sanders and Richard B. Hays, two leaders in the NPP movement (the two current big names are N. T. Wright and James Dunn).

What is the NPP, you ask? Reformation21's first issue was on it; therein, Ligon Duncan had these helpful summary comments:

[The NPP] suggests that the Protestant Reformers’ exegesis of Paul on justification and their theological formulations of what Paul taught about our being justified by grace through faith alone, and not by works, based on the work of Christ alone, imputed to us were mistaken. The NPP even questions whether Paul was primarily concerned with the question “how can I be saved?”

How did the Reformers get it so wrong? By focusing on justification and excluding Paul's main concern: Paul wasn't concerned with salvation by grace over/against salvation by merit. He saw contemporary Judaism as a religion of grace, not merit. Therefore, the biggest question of the gospel is "How can a Gentile be saved? How can Italians and Swedes be included in the Jewish covenant people?" (Note: historic reformed exegesis has never thought Judaism was, de facto, a religion of merit. But, we have understood Paul to criticize contemporary Judaism as a malformed religion of merit - Pelagian, if we were to import a good theological term.)

Waters does a great job tracing the roots of the NPP. The roots of this movement lie squarely in the historical-critical tradition of German scholarship - historically unfriendly ground for those who believed the Bible was, well, the Bible. He does a good job showing the sometimes vast distinctions between these scholars, as well as the threads that tied them together.

Along came E. P. Sanders, who claimed to have gone back to original sources in Pauline-era Judaism and said he could prove that 1st-century Judaism was not a religion of merit, but grace. While reformed scholars have always placed high value on the historical context of the epistles, Sanders' move is one to watch out for: placing historical study above what the text actually says. In essence, NPP says, "Because we know the Judaism Paul grew up in was a religion of grace, he couldn't have been saying what everyone always thought he was saying." When you take that mindset into Scripture, you're always going to find evidence to back up your claim.

And while each of these scholars disagree at points (especially in their approach to Scripture: Ephesians, Titus and 1-2 Timothy are generally thought to be "post-Pauline"), Waters points out these main theological errors, which are built on his discussion of NPP scholarly errors:

  • Confusion of legalism, grace and merit
  • Ignoring the doctrine of imputation - this is perhaps the most dangerous part of the NPP. The ignoring - or outright denial - of the doctrine of double imputation is disastrous for Christians. This doctrine states that, by grace through faith, Christ's righteousness is imputed to me and my sins are imputed to Him. Thus I am and ever shall be, both justified and adopted, declared innocent and declared family. For more on this, see John Piper's Counted Righteous in Christ. By denying this, the NPP takes away what the protestant world has always looked to for assurance of salvation.
  • Upsetting the balance between forensic and transforming grace. Reformation scholarship helped us to see grace's effects as both forensic (guaranteeting us a "not-guilty" verdict in God's courtroom) and transforming (making us more like Christ). Wright says that the believer's final acceptance, rather than the righteousness of Christ imputed to him, "is his covenantal faithfulness."
  • Redefining justification - The NPP has recast justification as an ecclesiological (church) issue rather than a soteriological (salvation) issue. Being justified, to the NPP, is being part of the church, being part of the covenant community. While reformers have always rejoiced in being counted one of God's people, being "united with the Jews on equal terms" (Martin Luther), this cannot be the exclusive heart of justification.

Waters finishes the book by considering "what's at stake for reformed Christianity?" In this section, he addresses the main things we have to lose should NPP take the day (our view of Scripture, why Christ came to die, the role of baptism, the doctrine of regeneration, etc.), shows some ties between NPP and the Federal Vision folks as well as Norman Shepherd. (I was struck several times with the thought, "Boy, this sure sounds like something the FV guys would like." Especially in a great emphasis on covenant-keeping and the power of the sacraments.)

Overall, this is a good book that clearly has a lot of study and thought behind it. Waters does a good job critiquing the NPP and I leave the book feeling that I don't really need to keep reading on the subject; my NPP cup is full. Should you buy it? Probably not. Unless you're a pastor or someone responsible for the souls of many others, it's probably just trivia (and fairly dry trivia) to you. But if this is a skirmish you need to fight, Waters' book fits the bill.

23 May 2006

Ball 1, Jared 0...or Why the Last Post was an Inadvertent Lie

Sunday night I preached on The Lord's Goodness from Psalm 31. Somewhere in that sermon, I reminded God's people that He simply cannot be better to us than He already is at any single moment. Whatever happens, I said, this is God's goodness to you.

Last night, God's goodness came to me in the form of a softball to the nose. I was playing right field and ran up to catch a line drive. My glove miraculously shortened and I was left to catch the ball square on the nose. Blood ensued.

They ended up calling the 'bambalance after I passed out, so I then got my first ride in an ambulance. At the emergency room, I fainted again during my x-rays. Turns out there's a small break toward the bottom of my nose near the lip, but not bad enough to set.

And today, rather than in Pennsylvania listening to preaching, I'm at home with my family and an extremely swollen face. I thought about posting some pictures - too bad we didn't get one at the ballpark, I hear I was quite the mess - but I want you all to still like me when I'm better. For now, I'm working on jello and smoothies, since my teeth aren't functioning properly just yet. I have an appointment with an ENT this week to see how bad my face is (insert favorite pun here).

Although several have already said it, God was good to me. It could have been worse (of course, the skeptic in me wants to say it certainly could have been better, too). And I'm not in as much pain as they said I would have.

I hope your week started less eventfully than mine. I've got some book reports to post soon. See you then.

...And we lost. Bad. Alas, I think my bloodiness disheartened the team. Or made them laugh too hard to play well.

22 May 2006

This Week

I'm heading out tomorrow morning for the Banner of Truth Pastors' Conference in Grantham, PA. It should be a fun and encouraging time; the speakers are Sinclair Ferguson, Joel Beeke, Phil Ryken, Ian Hamilton, Mark Johnston and Matt Kingswood (Matt is an RPCNA pastor in Russell, Ontario).

Lord willing, I'll write some about it this coming weekend. Have a great week!

18 May 2006

Is Smaller Better?

It seems it's populer these days to decry the blight of urban sprawl, that seemingly-inexorable move of the middle- to upper-middle class away from urban centers to outside the city, to "suburbia." I find myself torn somewhat. I like the ideals of stewardship and community that drive those who like city living; I also identify with those who wish to raise their family in safety and comfort.

A couple recent stories from npr brought this to mind, again:

This one details "tiny house" companies and owners. These are houses as small as 70 square feet (!), their benefits being a smaller ecological footprint, a focus on quality over quantity, and the ability to live, well, wherever you want.

This story is from an author who's arguing that urban sprawl isn't the new Satan many make it out to be.

As a family, we've committed to living where people are, not necessarily where we'll be the most comfortable. This is not to denigrate comfort, but to put it in perspective; we're not here for comfort, but to fulfill a mission. We're here to glorify God - part of which is bringing others to glorify Him as well.

Additionally, I'm attracted to the ideal of quality over quantity, of living better rather than bigger. As long as I have enough bookshelves...

So, urban sprawl vs. city-living - what do you think?

17 May 2006

Believing the Gospel

In our core group for church planting, we've generally gone about our studies by trying to answer these questions (and in this order):

Why plant a church?
Why plant a presbyterian church?
Why plant a reformed church?
And, finally, why plant a reformed presbyterian church?

So, we're concluding by focusing on our distinctives, those things that set us apart. This week and next, we're studying the issue of musical instruments in worship. Again we find ourselves squarely in line with church history but way outside the current practice. After I present the material to the group, I'll post a little more, but here's a great quote from John Calvin that gets to the heart of this issue: Is Jesus Christ our perfect sacrifice or not?

A difference is to be observed in this respect between his people under the Old and under the New Testament; for now that Christ has appeared, and the Church has reached full age, it were only to bury the light of the Gospel, should we introduce the shadows of a departed dispensation. From this, it appears that the Papists…in employing instrumental music, cannot be said so much to imitate the practice of God’s ancient people, as to ape it in a senseless and absurd manner, exhibiting a silly delight in that worship of the Old Testament, which was figurative, and terminated with the Gospel.
–Commentary on Psalm 92, pg. 495

12 May 2006

Oh, if it were true

Perhaps you, like me, get spam. Not the wonderful nearly-meat product, but emails tailored to annoy you and consume your inbox. But perhaps you don't get the same type of spam as I do. Somehow, I now get "pastor" spam. They know where I am and what I do, so I regularly get emails with subject headings like: SEED OF FAITH! Dear Beloved in Christ... and so on. These emails are usually (1) from someone in Africa, because, hey, who doesn't like Africa? and (2) promise amazing amounts of reward if I would simply send them my bank information (yeah, it's on its way).

If these emails were true...

  • I could get $5.6 million from Janet Hamson in Kuwait, whose husband left her this money. Now she's dying of strokes (poor Janet). She really wants to give this money to someone who will use it for orphanages and widows and nice fluffy things like that.
  • If I would only contact Mr. Uba Ego in Paraguay, he will send me $800,000! What, oh what, am I waiting for?
  • Barrister Greg Mba (what's a barrister?) is ready to make me next of kin to the unforunately deceased German Andreas Schranner. Although he doesn't say how much, this involves a "huge sum of money to" my corporation. You know, the Jared corporation.
  • Poor Mrs. Jane Fowler of Dublin had her whole family die. Luckily (?) they left her $10 mil. Although I can't get the whole thing (she wants 6 million to go to "ministry"), if I give her my info, she'd set me with a cool three million for my efforts. Boy, it's a good thing she got saved and is ready to be so generous to complete strangers in Indiana - it's part of her revelation from God. She doesn't even know if I like Dublin or not.
  • I've won the Euro Lotto sweepstakes! I get 12 million Euros (is that a lot?). Somebody in London really likes me.
  • Mr. Sunny James, from Nigeria, is representing the late Mr. Henry and Doris Williams. Their earnings totaled $25 million, which is all sealed in a trunk somewhere in Europe just waiting for me (and my ministry). How cool that God led Sunny to find me on the internet after he was finished with his "fasting and prayers."
  • Maxwell in London has less than 18 months to live and wants to give $20k to our ministry. Sorry, Maxwell, but this just doesn't stack up to the $25 million I've got waiting for me somewhere in Europe.
  • Finally, can you find it in your heart to help Kebi Moyle, a Lebanese who's now in Ghana, hoping to come to America? See, he's got a lot of money to buy a house with, but wants you to keep it for him until he gets here. Boy, he trusts you more than I do.
So, if only this were true, our church would have roughly 60 million dollars to do "ministry." I guess we'll just have to stick with the Holy Spirit.

09 May 2006

Turning Blogs Inside Out

Alan Jacobs had an interesting article in the most recent Books & Culture about blogging. It was very well written and even-handed. His main point was that blogging is pretty cool, but has its downsides. It is good for information purposes: news, news-checking, updates on subjects of interest, etc. But it's not so good for conversations. He argues that the architecture of a blog prohibits really valuable conversations from taking place. Other than the inherent roadblocks of an inhuman interface, the blog world seems to be one where one must, like university professors, publish or die.

Discussing this with my wife, especially concerning the propriety of this here blog, she made the comment that this blog does seem to generate good conversation, just not on the internet. With relative frequency, people will strike up face-to-face conversations about something I've written on the blog. This is partly possible because I believe I know personally most of the people who read this blog (and would really like to meet the rest of you). This is, in my opinion, the answer to Mr. Jacobs' valid argument: if the thoughts and conversations on blogs, and cyberspace in general, remain there, it's likely that little has really been accomplished. But if we can take from there thoughtful comments and bring them to our face-to-face conversations, it would seem we've found a useful tool. This way, blogs become matches rather than the whole fire.

This clarifies the "user instructions" for this blog: it is far better to take material from here and use it to light real conversations than simply to engage in polemical "commenting" ad infinitum. Though I do love a good comment now and then.


Please read this by George Grant. I'm done being nice in my sermons. :)

Please read this by Barry York.

04 May 2006


Pictures from Cush4Christ, RPCNA mission work to Sudan.

Moussaoui is spared the death penalty, America is proven the fool. Peggy Noonan's devastating and thoughtful response.

Ouch. Whatever happened to the Protestant work ethic (thanks David, for the link).

New issue out from Reformation21.

Blogs from friends smarter, and thus funnier, than I: Elizabeth and Meg, our Sunday night companions.

03 May 2006

Deep Waters

A few posts back we were talking about how we test candidates for the ministry in regards to their theology. One of the commentors asked me to make some comments on the Federal Vision theology. The title for this post reflects my feelings about this task.

Comments on the task:
  • If you don't know what the Federal Vision/Auburn Avenue theology is, please don't feel the need to go find out (Pro. 26:17). Don't interpret this post as "Jared really wants all of us to investigate this to the nth degree."
  • Although I've done some reading on the Federal Vision and listened to some of the tapes, I am by no means highly qualified to speak on the subject (which is why I'll mostly quote those who are). Having said that, though, I am charged by God to "insist on" the doctrines of grace (Titus 3:8) and be part of the watchmen for the city of God. The Westminster divines cautioned pastors against bringing up doctrinal controversies just for the sake of controversy. That is, only when the need is real should we take up the debate publicly. I'm still not yet convinced that time has fully arrived in our circles. But as some of you are thinking and asking questions, I feel it would be unfaithful to not answer.
  • Another part of my hesitancy to enter into this topic is that I have purposed with this forum to be encouraging and instructive, but not predominantly polemical. I don't want this to become the page where people go to see a good argument. So, hopefully, this page won't become a place where I take potshots at everybody who makes me itch.

Initial comments on Federal Vision-ism:

  • Names to know: Doug Wilson, Doug Jones, Steve Schlissel, John Barach, Steve Wilkins, Peter Leithart. To be fair, these men cannot be counted as one, consistent group. Within the FV group, there are significant disagreements over specific issues, such as paedocommunion. Also, my disagreements should be seen as intrafamilial discourse; that is, when we debate FVists, we're sitting around the table with family, not taking up the sword against enemies. History to know: this mostly exploded at the Auburn Avenue Pastor's Conference in 2002, followed up by the 2003 conference which was structured in a debate format.
  • As I've read and listened to FV materials, I am struck with how much difficulty I've had in simply understanding what they're saying. Over and over again, they've claimed that they haven't received a fair and thorough hearing in the reformed community. This may be true, at least partially. It's also probably true that I'm not quite theologically inclined or informed enough to do their nuanced positions complete justice. But certainly some of the fault lies with FV proponents and their methods of communication. Sometimes I'll wonder if there's any problem at all, other times my forehead will be sore from me slapping it so much in disbelief. Whether my fault or theirs or both, simply the style of writing and discourse makes comprehension fairly difficult.
  • There are parts of FV that have been helpful in my thinking and preaching. One of their major points is the objectivity of the covenant, that when a baby is baptized, he/she is a member of the church. The church and the family is to treat them as such. Our children are not in and of the world, but in and of the church. A little meditation on that idea makes quite a difference in how we treat our kids, in and out of worship.
  • This covenantal objectivity, though, is also at the heart of the disagreements. For FV, the covenant is the thing; we reformed people have been too introspective and too concerned with God's secret decrees for far too long. We need to (they claim) focus on the tangibles (baptism) and not the intangibles (election) when it comes to assurance of salvation.
  • From Pastor David Reese in the RP Witness article "The Reformation's Midlife Crisis" -
    The Federal Visionists want to de-subjectivize the Christian life and save us all from being overly concerned with our personal standing before God. The covenant is objective and is all we can know about ourselves and others in the here and now. Baptism is the mark of the covenant, and therefore baptism is the objective mark of salvation. But since a baptized member of the covenant can apostatize and go to hell, the FV thesis actually provides no assurance for baptized members. The Reformed doctrine of justification by faith alone puts the gospel before a person to be believed upon for assurance (WCF, 18). The FVs put assurance upon the shaky ground of a person's persevering performance in the covenant.

Please ask questions for clarification; again, if you haven't heard of this or don't much care, that's fine. Really. But if you're working through it, let me know what's sticking in your craw. Much more could be said and I'll try to post a few more interactions with FV theology on more specific aspects.

02 May 2006


Bela Fleck and the Flecktones live. Anyone who can make the banjo cool is, um, cool. And Victor Wooten playing bass is more fun than two, even three, barrels of monkeys. You'd have to be silly not to listen (or maybe just busy).

Speaking of banjos, I've been listening to Alison Brown, a great banjoess. On Stolen Moments, she's not quite as out-there as the Fleckster, but she brings a nice jazz sensibility to the songs. My favorite is her cover of Simon & Garfunkel's "Homeward Bound" with the Indigo Girls.


I received a subscription to Paste magazine for Christmas. It comes with handy-dandy CDs which are, in and of themselves, really good listening. Last month had a song by the band Robinella called "Break it Down." It was like Norah Jones and Nickel Creek had a musical marriage. Bluegrass/roots music sung by a jazz lady. So we got the cd, Solace for the Lonely, and we both dig it. It's pretty laid back, with a focus more on the singing of Robinella Cantreras than the more-than-capable instrumentation by her husband, Cruz, and the rest of the band. The songs have a good sense of humor as well as a subtle, gospel-influenced, Biblical worldview. Try it; you'll like it.


Throwback: James Hunter, a new-to-America soul singer from England. A little too much fun for my office in the basement, but we're getting there.

01 May 2006

Austen City Limits

Providence has conspired to bring me into closer contact with Jane Austen than has previously been the case. This is okay, as it gives me something to write here about.

First, thoughts I had which I either did or did not express out loud whilst watching the newest Pride and Prejudice (I will admit, with only a little embarassment, that I sorta teared up during Mr. Bennett's talk with his daughter Elizabeth: "I didn't think anyone could ever deserve you."):

  • Now I don't have to read the book.
  • We're never having any more daughters. Only sons. And rich sons.
  • Wow, that was good [upon Mr. Darcy's "bewitched, body and soul" speech]
  • These people need jobs. Seriously, if they had good stuff to do, they wouldn't be as worried about balls and rich aunts and matchmaking.
Second, a passage from Mansfield Park about preachers: [from Miss Crawford] Oh, no doubt he [a potential pastor] is very sincere in preferring an income ready made, to the trouble of working for one; and has the best intentions of doing nothing at all the rest of his days but eat, drink, and grow fat. It is an indolence, Mr. Bertram, indeed - indolence and love of ease - a want of all laudable ambition, of taste for good company, or of inclination to take the trouble of being agreeable, which make men clergymen. A clergymen has nothing to do but to be slovenly and selfish - read the newspaper, watch the weather, and quarrel with his wife. His curate does all the work, and the business of his own life is to dine.

Well, there it is, the business of my life is to dine. I'm going to McDonald's.