Wrestling with an Angel
If you have been blessed by Greg Lucas’s posts at Wrestling with an Angel, then you will certainly want to buy his new book of the same name. And if you need further persuasion, then read his latest blog post about the mysterious communication between God and Greg’s disabled son, Jake.
Salvation Reading List
Keith Mathison has an excellent survey of a number of books dealing with the doctrine of salvation in general and Calvinism in particular. He helpfully distinguishes which books would be best for different levels of Christian maturity.
Before you stand up to preach on Sunday, read this from Brian Croft. I couldn’t agree more. A Pastoral Epistle from Scotty Smith
Want to avoid some mistakes in your first few years of ministry. Then read this reflection on his early years from Scotty Smith who has now accumulated 30 plus years in the pastoral ministry. Brian Croft also gives some wise advice to young pastors about what they should do in their first year of ministry. Seven questions to ask before preaching
Francis Chan with some soul-searching questions. Logos v Bible Works v paper?
Phil Johnson in the Logos corner, Dan Philips fights for Bibleworks, and Frank Turk wants to go back to the paper age Truth and Wikipedia
Anyone interested in the cause of Truth in society should read Tim Challies’ helpful analysis of the impact and influence of Wikipedia. Part 1 and part 2. Truth and donuts
Not sure that Americans (or Scots) need to read this.
Oct 12, 2010 • By David Murray • 17 Comments
How would you like to peer into the mind of Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, and Christopher Hitchens to see what they really think about God? Romans 1:18-32 lets us do just that. There Paul tells us what every atheist knows about God.“But, how do they know anything about God when they don’t go to Church, read the Bible, etc?” Paul says that the invisible things of God are made plain to everyone through the made things (v. 19). In other words, the creation reveals the Creator to all creatures. “What may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them” (v. 20). And he shows it to them through what He has made. Just as handwriting tells us something about the writer, and just as a painting tells us something about a painter, so God’s creation tells everyone, even atheists, a lot about God. And what does the visible creation tell every atheist about the invisible Creator? 1. God exists. If they clearly see God’s invisible attributes (v. 19), then they obviously know He exists. As verse 21 says, “They know God.”
2. God is eternal (v. 20). They know that there is a being who had no beginning and will never end.
3. God is powerful (v. 20). They have an eerie sense of God’s overwhelming almightiness.
4. God is God. They not only know His eternal power but His eternal Godhead (v. 20). This is not someone just a bit bigger then themselves, but a wholly other kind of being, a transcendent God.
5. God is angry. The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against ungodly and unrighteous men (v. 18). Even atheists tremble in the thunder.
6. God will judge. Not only do they know God is presently angry with sin, but that he will justly judge it in the future (v. 32)
7. God is good. God has left a witness to His goodness everywhere in the regularity of seasons and harvests (Acts 14:17)
8. God is glorious. Day after day, and night after night, the fingerprints of God in His creation preaches “God is glorious, God is glorious” (Ps. 19:1-3). Every people and land have heard this sermon. So why do Hitchens, Hawking, and Dawkins not believe this daily sermon so full of theology? Television
Let me use the TV to illustrate Paul’s explanation. God transmits a clear signal, and people receive a clear signal (v. 19-20). However, the viewers turn down the volume, they hold down or suppress the truth in unrighteousness (v. 18). When that doesn’t work, they try to change the channels. They change the glory of God for idols (v. 22), the truth of God for a lie (v. 25), and natural sexual relations for unnatural (v. 26). When the signal still gets through, they try and switch off the TV, they do everything they can to get rid of this unwanted knowledge (v. 28), and then ultimately try to drown out the noise by ungodly lives (v. 29-31). But Paul says, despite these desperate attempts, despite all their protestations and denials, “They still know the judgment of God” (v. 32). They cannot escape the certain fact that they will one day meet a divine judge. What grace!
What grace! That God makes such a generous daily revelation to a world which daily spurns, mocks, rejects and attacks his revelation! No ordinary artist would persevere when his handiwork was treated like this. What madness! That men and women should reject such precious and valuable knowledge, and admire themselves as wise in the process (v. 22). What privilege! This revelation of God through creation is often called general revelation because it is given to all. But it cannot save anyone. General revelation can only show us our need, and give hints that God’s goodness may supply our need. But it cannot save us. It can only leave us without excuse. To be saved we need an extra, a special revelation. That’s why God gave us His written and enfleshed Word. If we have that, we are highly privileged. But to whoever much is given, much will be required. What hope! As we evangelize, we are not evangelizing blank slates. We are not starting with total ignorance. We are going to people who already know much about God. There are already mental sockets prepared for the truth of God’s Word to fit into and to explain. Dawkins, Hawking, Hitchens & co will vehemently deny all this. But dear atheist friends, you know. And we know you know. And we only want you to know more, to know the Jesus who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
Oct 11, 2010 • By David Murray • 0 Comments
Steven Smith’s Dying to Preach is one of the most uncomfortable books on preaching I’ve ever read.It is also one of the best, especially for those who have been preaching for a few years. Don’t read this book if you are just looking for a few tweaks and tips for next Sunday morning. Read it only if you want your whole view of preaching to be turned upside down and inside out. If you still dare to buy it, be warned: you are going to be ruffled, stung, provoked and offended. At times you will react with, “No way!” and, “That’s going too far!” But as the author’s biblical arguments work on your conscience, you will gradually submit, slowly agree, and pick up the book again. The author is Steven Smith, assistant professor of preaching, and the James T. Draper Jr. Chair of Pastoral Ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His basic thesis is that the nature of our message should impact the way we present and communicate our message. Those who preach a crucified Christ should preach in a crucified style. And even though it is more about style than substance, the whole book is an argument for an absence of style, or a crucified style. In the preface Smith asks:
If the cross is God’s chosen means of salvation, why is it not also our means of communication? If God saved through the cross, can we not preach through the cross? If the cross was God’s means, why is it not ours? …If God will save through the abject humility of crucifixion, will He sanctify with messages from preachers who don’t imitate the abject humility of crucifixion? Must not a message of death to life be communicated from a preacher who dies so that others might live? (13)
Or, more succinctly: “A cross from the pulpit logically means a cross in the pulpit. So every preacher dying to preach must die to preach” (13). I Iike the way Johnny Hunt put it in his blurb: “The preacher will see little life in the pews until he sees much death in the pulpit.”That concept is so alien to Western preachers today that it may take you a few chapters and maybe even a few re-readings until you grasp what Smith is getting it. However, it is certainly worth persevering with. He begins with two chapters on the cross in Paul’s pulpit ministry. In page after page of insightful commentary on 1 & 2 Corinthians, Smith argues that Paul’s principal understanding of ministry to the Corinthians was “dying for others,” a claim he supports with 20 verses from the Corinthian letters. He then draws four implications of the cross in the pulpit:
- Ignite: Preaching the Cross of Christ.
- Invite: Sharing the Sufferings of Christ.
- Identify: Bearing the Reproach of Christ.
- Imitate: Communicating the Example of Christ.
Thirdly, Smith highlights three results when a preacher begins to die so that others may live:(i) He surrenders to the text by precise, humble, long-term study that produces clear, cliché-free communication. (ii) He surrenders to the audience. This does not mean caving in to the sheep’s demands but feeling the sheep’s pain. “Passion for the text must be accompanied by compassion for the people…Shepherds smell like sheep, and surrendered communicators have a ‘feel’ for people who are in the dark.” (iii) Last, he surrenders to the task of great preaching. Having spent most of the book arguing against style, arguing for a crucified style, Smith recognizes the tension of this final point and asks, “Is it biblical to want to preach good sermons?” He answers:
We must become better in our preaching because God uses good preaching. With all the liabilities we have mentioned, with all of the red flags about style over substance, with all the warnings about a self-centered pulpit, we must commit ourselves to becoming good preachers. So with eight chapters of warning against letting the good of decent preaching rob people of the best of seeing Christ in the text, let me stop and scream, “Strive for good preaching” (156).
And what motivates us to work hard on improving our preaching? Smith returns to the cross: “Christ expended everything on the cross, because leaving anything undone would not have accomplished God’s will” (157).I was intrigued and encouraged by Smith’s support from a return to more extemporaneous preaching, something I also am passionately in favor of. And to prove his point, he turns to the sermon that is often used to argue for full manuscripts being read in the pulpit; Jonathan Edward’s “Sinners in the hands of an angry God.” Citing research, Smith says that under the influence of George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards was convicted of the power of extemporaneous preaching and shifted his sermon delivery accordingly. No longer did he use the manuscript, but rather he made the conscious decision to shift away from notes (156). I did disagree with Smith’s exposition of Colossians 1:24 on pages 80-81. I know this is one of the most difficult verses in the New Testament. However, I’m concerned that Smith’s choice of vocabulary here unwittingly undermines the perfection of Christ’s finished work on the cross. With that small reservation, I highly commend this book to preachers who have been preaching for a few years. What about students and others just beginning to preach? I’m not saying no. In some ways this would be a great foundational book, and would perhaps save some from getting off on the wrong foot and heading in the wrong direction. However, I would advise students to read a few of the classic homiletics texts first to get the basics of “How-to preach” and then read this one. This is more about the preaching mindset than the mechanics. It would be difficult to understand what Smith is getting at without some experience of preparing and preaching sermons. Let me clinch your purchase with an appetizer of the many quotable quotes in this book:
The death to self that is demanded of the preacher works life in his people. In this way, the preacher becomes like Christ, who died so that we might live. If we do not die, they do not live. (18).An obsession with style will actually be counterproductive to the Gospel message (52). For a preacher to die, he must die to his right to be thought of as a great preacher (53). Paul is suggesting a horrific, criminal irony: the means of preaching displaces the message of preaching (74). Preaching ourselves, even in small inconsequential ways, can be the few small lumens that keep people from the true satisfying glorious light of Christ (74). Death is in the pew because few are willing to die in the pulpit (88). We are redeemed rebels who are calling other rebels to be redeemed. We are no longer managing our image. No. We have thrown off our robes and are taking the long walk outside the city. We are looking up at the thrashed corpse and taking a stand-this is who we are! We are cross bearers because we are cross lovers (98).
Steven W. Smith. Dying to Preach. Kregel, 2009. 175 pages.Review first posted at TGC Reviews.
Oct 8, 2010 • By David Murray • 1 Comment
Corinth Reformed Church are hosting the Young & Reformed Conference from 22-23 October in Byron Center, Michigan (20 mins from Grand Rapids). I’m told that “Old & Reformed” are very welcome too.On Friday at 7pm Kevin DeYoung will speak on “A Great Resurgence, Grand Rapids, and a Guy Named Guido: Why Theology is to Die for.” On Saturday morning Mike Wittmer will speak on “Your only comfort: How Reformed Theology meets our needs.” There will also be a Question Panel and a few Breakout sessions before everything wraps up at 1pm on Saturday. Visit the website here for more details.
Oct 8, 2010 • By David Murray • 0 Comments
January 22, 2011 marks the 38th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. On January 3rd, the 112th United States Congress will open with newly elected representatives in the Senate and the House of Representatives joining the incumbents. This is an important opportunity to influence our nation’s leaders on the critical issue of abortion. To coincide with both of these dates, Ligonier will send R.C. Sproul’s Twentieth Anniversary special edition of Abortion: A Rational Look at an Emotional Issue (Reformation Trust Publishing, November 2010) to every Congressional representative. Will you help?
Read how you can help here.