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Matthew Parris goes to Africa, and “gets” religion (sort of)
I used to read Parris every week in the London Times and agree with Thabiti, he’s the most honest (and bravest) atheist I’ve read too.

How to have communion with the Spirit
J. D. Grear encourages us to press on to fellowship with God.

People you’ve probably never heard of but should
One of the first books I read as a young Christian was The Life and Labors of Asahel Nettleton, and it still impacts me 20+ years later.

What does cooking meals have to do with sermons
Looks like cooks and preachers have a lot to teach one another.

Hearts Atwitter
Just because your husband or wife didn’t get swept away with overpriced chocolates, teddies, and flowers yesterday, doesn’t mean he/she doesn;t love you.

The danger of do-it-yourself spirituality
Joel Miller: “A full and well-rounded spirituality cannot be a self-directed spirituality. Despite how it might look, such a pursuit will be almost definitionally narrow and fraught with delusion, not enlightenment.”

13 Reasons why Election is not Foreseen Faith

Is it that important to believe in unconditional election – God’s sovereign pre-creation choice to save specific people, irrespective of anything they would do or be? Can’t we just agree with other Christians who say that election simply means that God foresaw which people would believe and therefore chose them?

In his chapter on Unconditional Election, in Whomever He Wills, Andrew Davis lists 13 damaging consequences that follow from understanding election as merely foreseen faith (pages 58-74).

The Damaging Consequences

  1. It robs God of His glory as sovereign King of the universe: If God is the responder and man the initiator, God has surrendered control of the universe to the creature. God is a student of the human heart rather than the potter shaping the clay.
  2. Gives man ground for boasting: If our faith is the fundamental cause of our election before the foundation of the world, we can stand on our faith and boast.
  3. Severs the Scriptural connection between grace and faith: The Bible consistently presents faith as a gift of God’s grace, not the cause of it.
  4. Reverses the fundamental order of cause and effect: If our election is based on foreseen faith, that makes faith the cause and our election the effect.
  5. Is nowhere attested in Scripture
  6. Fails to understand foreknowledge properly: Foreknowledge means that God foreknows people, which is far more than knowing about people, and that “knowledge” is in the deepest sense a covenantal or marital knowledge.
  7. Contradicts Scripture’s testimony that election is the ground of faith: It is because of divine election that all true Christians believe.
  8. Finds good in man apart from sovereign regeneration: If the Bible describes us as “dead in trespasses and sins,” what good did God see in unregenerate people when he looked down through the corridors of time?
  9. Reverses who elects whom: The Arminian view makes God’s election of us follow our election of God logically.
  10. Makes the ultimate difference between someone in heaven and someone in hell something in man and not something in God: What makes the difference between a person who ends up in heaven and someone who ends up in hell? Something in the human heart or something in God’s heart?
  11. Makes God’s election a matter of justice, compulsion, and reward, not sovereign freedom: In the Arminian view, whenever God identifies this independent, man-originated faith, God is compelled by something outside Himself to elect that person to eternal life.
  12. Strips people of true freedom of choice: The doctrine of election based on foreseen faith makes both God and man subservient to another “force” or “drive” in the universe which neither can ultimately control.
  13. Renders evangelistic prayer meaningless: If God cannot or will not interfere in the inner workings of the human heart to bring about faith, what exactly are we asking Him to do when we pray for a lost person?

The Blessed Benefits

Andrew then proceeds to list four benefits of unconditional election (pages 75-76):

  1. God gets the full glory for human salvation: Unconditional election means that God deserves full praise and glory for every aspect of human salvation.
  2. The human heart is humbled: There was nothing in us whatsoever that moved God to choose us.
  3. Security: Our salvation is completely secure because it was neither initiated nor sustained by us.
  4. God-centered confidence in evangelistic and missionary endeavors: An evangelist or missionary that goes forth in the name of sovereign grace can do so with a completely humble confidence in God that the mission will be successful under God’s eternal purposes.

This is a superb chapter and should help to remove any grounds for apology or embarrassment for believing or teaching this doctrine.

But before you go out and use this as a club to beat up your Arminian friends, let’s also remember especially the first part of the Westminster Confession’s conclusion about the doctrine of election:

The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men attending to the will of God revealed in his Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election. So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God; and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the gospel (WCF 3.8).

Whomever He Wills [Book Review]

Book Review of Whomever He Wills (edited by Matthew Barrett and Thomas Nettles)

This is a good book for convinced Calvinists but not for convincing non-Calvinists. That’s not a criticism; there’s a need for books like this that give a full-throated polemical defense of Calvinistic soteriology and demolish Arminian errors and misrepresentations. But its tone is probably too aggressive and its theological content too dense to win over many or any Arminians.

Much of that can be explained by the book’s immediate context, a full-on, all-out attack upon Calvinism by a group of Southern Baptist Arminian theologians in a recent book with a similar title, Whosoever Will.

Whomever He Wills is the response and riposte to that onslaught which explains the punchy tone, detailed exegesis, and theological density.

However you don’t need to be involved in that Southern Baptist controversy to benefit from this book. While the book itself may not persuade many Arminians, it will certainly give a great biblical, theological, and historical grounding for anyone who is involved in similar controversies or who is trying to provide an apologetic for Reformed theology to their friends.

For myself, I found it a welcome and vigorous refresher on the doctrines of grace and some of the quality exegetical work helped me to understand key scriptures better. The book also reminded me of the need to be motivated by a desire for the glory of God in all controversy. Although the book is argumentative, it’s obvious in all the chapters that none of the authors are simply out to win an argument, but rather are motivated by a jealous desire to advance the glory of God and clear away any aspersions upon it resulting from theological error.

Authors take on the common misrepresentations of Calvinism and try to put a number of red herrings in the waste disposal. Highlights for me included:

  • David Schrock’s demonstration of how limited atonement is compatible with a universal Gospel offer.
  • Andrew Davis’s list of the consequences of limiting election to simply God forseeing faith (see next blog post).
  • Matthew Barrett’s marshaling of the evidence for monergistic regeneration in both the Old and New Testaments.
  • Tom Schreiner’s explanation of the warnings against apostasy in Hebrews as one of the means God uses to keep his own.
  • Stephen Wellum’s brave biblical theodicy.
  • Tom Ascol’s convincing proof of Calvinism’s missionary heart and action
  • Ben Rogers’ survey of Sovereignty and Evangelism in John Bunyan’s preaching.

I hope you can see that there’s much more here than ammunition for Southern Baptist Calvinists. It’s a book I expect to be referring back to quite frequently in sermon preparation, but I’ll be hiding it from my Arminian friends!

Whomever He Wills by Matthew Barrett and Tom Nettles. Published by and available at Amazon

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A Prayer for Pharisees of Grace and Gospel Scribes
A brave post and a brave prayer.

5 Reasons you Should Celebrate Black History Month
Must be honest, this is the first year I have.

Why I don’t watch Downtown Abbey
Like Rebecca, I was hopeful this might be a beautiful educational series. I think I got to about 10 minutes of Season 1, Episode 1 on Amazon Prime before I turned it off.

Am I too sinful to be married?
“The truth is: I am single because God loves me, not because He is punishing me.”

Reformed Church Witness in Texas Maximum Security Prison
This is a great story of God’s grace reaching across gender, race, and social chasms.

Spurgeon and Infant Salvation
“I know that there are those who think the Bible’s teaching on infant salvation is not clear, or at least is confined to children of the covenant, whatever that means. I don’t expect that this passage in isolation will be persuasive to those people. But when added to the list of the other 26 passages, I think the case is insurmountable. Every single verse (and I list now 27 of them) in the Bible that speaks to this issue, points to the fact that those who die at a young age simply lived their lives on the short road to glory.”

Relax! You’ll be more productive

Tony Schwartz took a year of 10-hour days to write each one of his first three books, but only six months of 4-hour days  to write his fourth and fifth. His secret? He took more time off!

In this New York Times piece, Schwartz collates the scientific evidence to confirm a pattern I’ve been increasingly recognizing in my own life.

Strategic renewal — including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations — boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.

But try persuading your boss or even yourself of this. It’s so counter-intuitive and, as Schwarz points out, at odds with the work ethic in most work places:

  • More than one-third of employees eat lunch at their desks on a regular basis.
  • More than 50 percent work during their vacations.
  • Long hours are usually the key to raises and promotions, even though hours worked are no indicator of productivity
  • Excess working hours result in sleep deprivation that is costing American companies $63.2 billion a year in lost productivity.
  • Americans left an average of 9.2 vacation days unused in 2012 — up from 6.2 days in 2011.

But the scientific evidence in favor of rest and renewal is mounting:

  • When male basketball players slept 10 hours a night, free-throw and three-point shooting each increased by an average of 9 percent.
  • When night shift air traffic controllers were given 40 minutes to nap, they performed much better on tests that measured vigilance and reaction time.
  • A 60- to 90-minute nap improved memory test results as fully as did eight hours of sleep.
  • For each additional 10 hours of vacation employees took, their year-end performance ratings improved by 8 percent.
  • Frequent vacationers were also significantly less likely to leave the firm.

Schwartz argues that if we follow our natural daily body cycle, we will end up with a daily routine of three 90-minute cycles of intense and uninterrupted work in the morning, each followed by a break to renew and refresh. The rest of the day can then be spent on less demanding tasks.

Read the rest of the article to find out how Schwartz’s own company puts renewal breaks at the centre of their daily work. He concludes:

Our basic idea is that the energy employees bring to their jobs is far more important in terms of the value of their work than is the number of hours they work. By managing energy more skillfully, it’s possible to get more done, in less time, more sustainably. In a decade, no one has ever chosen to leave the company. Our secret is simple — and generally applicable. When we’re renewing, we’re truly renewing, so when we’re working, we can really work.

You can read the whole article here, as long as you haven’t used up all your 20 NYT paywall credits this month!

Meeting Jesus at the Feast [Book Review]

Book review of Meeting Jesus at the Feast: Israel’s Festivals and the Gospel by John Sittema

Old Testament typology has many pitfalls awaiting the intrepid student:

  • Assuming that coincidental analogy = divinely ordained typology.
  • Assuming that every detail of a type is typological.
  • Assuming that the Old Testament believer had the benefit of New Testament light.
  • Assuming that the Old Testament believer had no Gospel light.
  • Assuming that only explicitly identified types are types.
  • Assuming that everything is a type.
  • Assuming that the Old Testament believer was saved by the types apart from what they pointed to.

What a minefield! No wonder so few venture in there. And no wonder so few come back out in one piece.

The good news is that in Meeting Jesus at the Feast we have a new and reliable guidebook to the typology of the Old Testament festivals (although the principles and practices of interpretation you will discover in it can be applied to many more Old Testament types).

John Sittema, the Senior Pastor of Christ Church (PCA) in Jacksonville, Florida, covers nine Old Testament feasts in nine chapters of about 15 readable pages each. A sampling of the titles should give you a flavor of what he is serving up:

  • Rehearsing the Rest: The Sabbaths
  • Behold the Lamb: The Passover
  • Cleaning House: The Feast of Unleavened Bread
  • Awake the Dawn: The Feast of Firstfruits
  • On Earth, as it is in Heaven: The Year of Jubilee

John skilfully mines the Old Testament text and brings these festivals alive on the page – you can see them, smell them, and even taste them – giving wonderful insight into what the original festival-goers understood about what they were doing. He then quickly traces how they developed through the Old Testament and inter-testamental period before introducing us to how the feasts were observed at the time of Christ. You’ll be amazed at how a background knowledge of these feasts opens up new vistas on the life of Christ and the New Testament text. It’s stunning how all the major events in Christ’s ministry revolved around these feasts. As John writes: “You cannot really comprehend what it means that Jesus is the Messiah without knowing something about the feasts.”

But John doesn’t leave us back in 1st century Judaism. He weaves a number of moving stories from his own life into the text, demonstrating how these ancient feasts can still feed the hungry 21st century soul. Lots of edible theology and plenty appetizing application.

The material in this book would form the basis for a fascinating sermon series, or a group Bible study (questions are provided at the end of each chapter). But for myself the book was simply a nourishing and refreshing experience for my own soul. It brought Jesus to me and me to Jesus. As a bonus, I learned a bit more about typology, enough to steer me safely round a few more of the mineholes that put off so many from discovering the beautiful Gospel treasure God has hidden in His older testament.

Meeting Jesus at the Feast by John Sittema. You can read John’s introduction to the book here. You can buy at at Amazon or at RHB.