DBG Weekend Spotlight (10-28-16)

In this sermon, Paul Washer is addressing the subject of biblical manhood.

12 Theses on a Christian Understanding of Economics – “Regrettably, many American Christians know little about economics. Furthermore, many Christians assume that the Bible has nothing at all to say about economics. But a biblical worldview actually has a great deal to teach us on economic matters.”

Addressing the Dressing IX: The Second Amendment – “I won’t do another summary of what’s come before, except to say that I’ve argued at length that “modesty”, in the Bible, has more to do with general demeanor and flaunting wealth than it has to do with dressing inappropriately.”

How to be a Member of a Church While in Seminary – Some helpful words of advice for those attending seminary.

As a Pastor, Did You Use Church Growth Strategies? – Some words from John Piper regarding his own use of “strategies” in ministry.

The New ESV Reader’s Bible: Six-Volume Set – Something worthy of your attention.  It’s more than a set of books for the shelf.

Theology Word of the Week:  Vision of God

Vision of God. The vision of God, also called the beatific vision, is one of the classic theological definitions of the eschatological goal of humanity.

The idea that the ultimate destiny of the righteous is to see God face to face has its roots in the OT (Ps. 17:15) and was known in intertestamental Judaism (4 Ezra 7:98), whence it was taken up in the NT. It owes something to the oriental court, in which the king was normally inaccessible, but his close personal attendants were privileged to enjoy his immediate presence (Rev. 22:3–4). There is also a contrast between the indirect, fragmentary and obscure knowledge of God which we have in this life, and the direct, clear apprehension of God as he really is, to which we aspire (1 Cor. 13:12). The moral qualifications for enjoying the vision of God are stressed (Mt. 5:8; Heb. 12:15; 1 Jn. 3:3). Finally, the NT belief that the glory of God has been revealed in Christ (Jn. 14:9; 2 Cor. 4:6) makes the revelation of Christ at his parousia the vehicle for the eschatological vision of God (1 Jn. 3:2).

The pagan world into which early Christianity spread also aspired to the vision of God in the form in which this was envisaged in the Platonic tradition (cf. Neoplatonism). This influenced the development of patristic and medieval thinking about the vision of God, with some unfortunate results. Instead of the context of personal fellowship with God in which the biblical notion of the vision belongs, Platonic influences promoted a more purely intellectualist and individualist understanding of the vision, as intellectual contemplation of eternal being, anticipated in this life in solitary mystical ecstasy. With it came the Greek distinction between contemplation and action, which created a tension in medieval Christianity between the pursuit of the vision of God in the contemplative life, which required withdrawal from society, and the practice of neighbourly love in the active life. The Platonic form of the vision of God also tended to relativize the incarnation. Because the beatific vision was considered simply as the goal of monastic flight from the world, of ascetic discipline and of all-too-Platonic forms of mysticism, the Reformers, followed by most Protestant theology, largely neglected the notion; but in doing so they neglected an important element in the eschatological hope of the NT and lost some of the valuable insights of medieval theology and spirituality.

In medieval Western theology the beatific vision was defined as the direct, intuitive, intellectual vision of the essence of God, whereas the Eastern church denied that God can be seen in his essence (see Eastern Orthodox Theology; Hesychasm; Iconoclastic Controversies). The Council of Vienne (1311–12) and scholastic theology insisted that the natural powers of the created intellect are incapable of the vision of God, which is a supernatural gift of God’s grace to the faithful after death. Controversy over the views of Pope John XXII (1316–34) led to the decree of the Council of Florence (1439) to the effect that the beatific vision is already enjoyed by the redeemed in heaven before the last judgment.

Properly understood, the doctrine of the vision of God teaches that God himself is the ultimate goal of human life, that he will be known by the redeemed in heaven in an immediate relationship involving their whole persons, endlessly satisfying both the love of beauty and the love of truth, the object of all their attention and the source of all their joy. As Augustine (City of God XXII.29) well recognized, the vision of God will not exclude but will include the corporate life of the redeemed and the reality of the new creation; for in the new creation all things and people will reflect God’s glory and he will be seen in all.

  1. Sinclair B. Ferguson and J.I. Packer, New Dictionary of Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 710–711.

Tim Challies — Reading and Writing for the Glory of God

Tim Challies — Reading and Writing for the Glory of God

Thank you, Tim, for taking time to participate in this interview. I was recently thinking back to how I came to know you. I was first introduced to your blog when I was working for a printing company in Atlanta shortly after becoming a Christian. Soon, I moved to Louisville where I attended seminary, and I continued to read your blog during those years. I think I was intrigued by the fact that you had a passion for theology, but you earned a living at the time building websites. I too was moonlighting as a web designer while in seminary in order to pay the bills while pastoring a small church.

After being called to pastor my home church near Atlanta, we connected in person through our G3 Conference — which you’ve been involved with since the beginning. After getting to know you in person, my appreciation for your work has only increased through the years.

What I would like to discuss with you is the idea of reading and writing for the glory of God.

First of all, in terms of reading, how do you balance your time in the books between academic projects and personal devotion?

Challies: Sometimes I do it very well and other times not so much. I am less concerned with the amount of time given to each of the pursuits and more concerned with the significance I place on them. What I mean, is that I don’t think I need to read 4 hours of the Bible in order to “earn” the right to read 4 hours of other books. When it comes to Bible reading, I try to do that first, before anything else. That sets it as my main priority and elevates the Bible above other books. I try to do my devotions at a time (first thing in the morning) when I am not rushed. Beyond that, I read other books when I have time and as I find myself interested in reading them. I usually try to read the book I’m interested in now, which is why I always have at least 3 or 4 on the go. One of my favorite things to do is to read one chapter of a book, then switch to a second and third book and read one chapter in each of them, then start over again.

Other than the Bible, what book has been the most helpful for you in the area of sanctification (growing in grace)?

Challies: I always point to 3 books, which I suppose is cheating a little, so bear with me. R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God gave me just a glimpse of God’s holiness and compared it to my unholiness. In that way, it changed everything. Jerry Bridge’s The Discipline of Grace taught me about the gospel and the importance of dwelling on the gospel every day. It changed everything, too. John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation taught me why I must put sin to death and how to actually go about it. And yes, it changed everything too. I’ve read thousands of books over the course of my life and many of them have been helpful and edifying. But those three changed me forever. I return to them often because they continue to teach and change me.

What book has been the most helpful in your understanding of the doctrines of grace? Why?

Challies: I’d have to go with James Montgomery Boice’s The Doctrines of Grace. It was a book I picked up “randomly” one day while browsing a local Christian bookstore—a bookstore that had very few quality books in it. Yet for some reason they had a copy of that one just sitting there. I picked it up, read it, and emerged from it with renewed Reformed convictions. I had been raised in Reformed churches but had deliberately wandered into mainstream evangelicalism. That book showed me all that I had walked away from and convicted me that I had abandoned key gospel truths. Shortly after I picked up a couple of similar books, one by Michael Horton and one by R.C. Sproul. From that point there was no looking back.

As you have studied the doctrine of the church, has there been one particular author (other than Mark Dever) who has been helpful in your understanding of what a healthy church looks like?

Challies: Well, there’s definitely been no one more helpful to me than Mark Dever. That said, I mentioned picking up a book by James Boice. That same day I picked up another book—another book that had no good reason to be at that little Christian bookstore. It was John MacArthur’s Ashamed of the Gospel. While Boice’s book addressed the theology I had left behind when I walked away from Reformed churches, MacArthur’s book addressed many of the doctrines of the church I had left behind. At that time I was in a church that was following the principles of church growth. MacArthur’s book was written specifically to combat that way of doing church. So on that one day I picked up two books that did their work within me. One called me to pure doctrine and the other called me to a pure church. Not surprisingly, perhaps, it was not long before we moved on from that church and joined Grace Fellowship Church where we remain today.

What biography of any historical figure (not bound to church history) has intrigued you the most?

Challies: It may sound a bit cliché, but probably Abraham Lincoln. I’ve read lots of biopgraphies of him, but my favorite is A. Lincoln by Ronald White. When I was a child I read a couple of biographies that painted Lincoln as a great Christian figure. I realize now that the story is much more nuanced than that and that many historians have attempted to figure out exactly what he believed and when he believed it. Still, I find Lincoln a fascinating figure and one who exemplified many important traits. He was a man of conviction who stands in sharp contrast to so many of today’s pragmatic leaders. He was a man of both toughness and kindness who stands in sharp contrast to so many of today’s too-hard or too-soft leaders. He was exactly the man America needed in its darkest hour. We could do with leaders like him today.

A while back you put out a series of posts on your blog regarding the best commentaries for specific books of the Bible. If you were placed on a deserted island with nothing other than your Bible and one set of commentaries, what set of commentaries would you choose?

Challies: I’d probably go with the Reformed Expository Commentary series—but only if it has been completed by then. (Do you know exactly when I’m going to find myself stranded on this island?) For now the series is still in progress and that would reduce the number I could take with me. So I might go with the Bible Speaks Today set, mostly so I could have Stott’s New Testament commentaries with me. I could read those all days, which is good because I suppose I wouldn’t have much else to do on that island. I suspect I’d come back godlier for the time spent in them.

When you started writing your blog, did you see yourself as developing into an author and conference speaker?

Challies: No, not at all. That was never the intent. And even today, that’s not the intent. I write the occasional book and speak at a number of conferences, but what I love to do most is blog—write articles, prepare book reviews, and collect good material from other sites. That’s my main passion. Actually, I need to be very careful with the books and conferences because they can actually be a distraction from what I consider my main ministry (or business or whatever it is). When I set out to write my purpose was really just to share the occasional article with family and perhaps with friends. It was only later on, as the search engines began to work their magic, that other people began to read my site. That was a surprise to me, but also a surprising joy. It has been thirteen years now that I’ve done it every day!

Many polemical blogs are helpful to the church as a whole, but many Christians are turned off by the tone of some blogging ministries. What advice would you provide someone who feels a passion to defend the faith in the world of the blogosphere?

Challies: You’ve heard it before, but it’s actually true—I know because I went to the Bank of Canada to verify it: The way to detect counterfeit money is not to study bad money but to study good money. You’ll be far better at identifying the funny money if you are an expert in identifying the real thing. This is true of doctrine as well. It’s true of false teachers. The way to identify error is to become intimately familiar with the truth. For that reason I’d like to see blogging ministries, especially discernment ministries, focus on what is good, what is pure, what is holy and lovely. If we teach people to know and love what is good, all that is evil will stand out in ugly contrast.

Suppose you could talk to a room full of new budding bloggers, what advice would you provide them about how they should approach blogging as a Christian?

Challies: First, I’d want them to believe that blogging matters. It really does. It really does make a difference to people—to God’s people. Second, I’d want them to understand that so much of what passes for advice to bloggers is actually gimmickry. The absolute best thing a blogger can do is focus on great content—high-quality articles. A beautiful design, powerful headlines, and beautiful graphics are all wasted if there isn’t quality content behind it. Third, understand who it is that you are writing for and find ways to bless and encourage them through what you write. There is always the temptation to write articles that benefit myself—they point people to Amazon so I can earn affiliate dollars, they increase my “platform” so I can get conference invitations or book deals. But blogging at its best is blogging that is done with a desire to server others, not self.

As an author, you’re always working on a new project. What new book should we expect to see released from Tim Challies in 2017?

Challies: At this point I have no plans to release a book in 2017, though I suspect there will be one in 2018. But, as I mentioned earlier, I am more and more convinced that my main emphasis ought to be on creating one good article every day. By the time I have done that, I have little time and little creative energy left for much else. I will continue to write books, but only at a pace that doesn’t take me away from my main ministry.

What benefits can come from writing, even if you don’t want to write a blog or author books, but you simply journal on a weekly basis?

Challies:  There is a sense in which blogging is my meditation. I don’t know what I think, I don’t know what I believe, until I have written about it. Writing allows me to corral my thoughts, to get them down on virtual paper, to take them from vague and unformed to sharp and focused. This is true of what I write for my blog, but equally true for what I write in a journal that only I will ever see. Writing is a valuable practice, whether or not that writing ever becomes public.

Tim, thank you once again for taking the time to answer these questions today.

If you would like to learn more about Tim or find his books, you can visit his website – Challies.com.

DBG Spotlight (10-26-16)

DBG Spotlight (10-26-16)

In January of 2017, we will gather in Atlanta for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. We will remember the history, examine the theology, and look to the future. We hope you can join us. Details can be found here: G3Conference.com

Make the Most of Sunday Morning – “All Christians want to be encouraged by their church family. Those of us who are blessed to be united to Jesus Christ live to be a blessing to others (2 Corinthians 1:3–4).”

Go Therefore – This is part 1 of 4 in a series by Alistair Begg.  You will want to take time to listen to it.

The Key to Understanding Why Parenting Is Hard – “This is a guest post by Paul David Tripp, author of Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family.”

Who was Paul? His early life, and why it matters – Take time to read and consider the importance of Paul and his ministry.

Danger Signs of an Unhealthy Dating Relationship – Tim Challies provides some helpful advice here.

Holiness and the Great Commission

Holiness and the Great Commission

I‘m currently reading Kevin DeYoung’s book A Hole in our Holiness with a group of men.  We meet every other week to discuss the chapters over coffee.  In the first chapter, Kevin DeYoung (besides showing his disapproval for camping) points to an often overlooked relationship between our pursuit of holiness and the Great Commission.  If we are majoring on making disciples within our church without a goal of holiness, it’s not really the Great Commission – right?

The Commission of Jesus

Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20).  What a vast charge to God’s people.  We are to go and reach the world with the gospel.

While we live in a sophisticated culture in 2016, we must not overlook that a great number of people on planet Earth still live in extremely poor conditions without running water, without Internet, without smart phones, without many of the luxuries that we enjoy.  One critical thing that a vast number of the world’s population lives without is the good news of Jesus Christ.  We are commanded to go and tell and disciple these people in the gospel.  That is the heartbeat of the church and it should be the heartbeat of God’s people.  But, as we consider what it means to be a Great Commission church or a Great Commission Christian, we should look well beyond the waters of the baptistry and see the whole picture of a redeemed sinners serving, worshipping, and living for Christ.

The Goal of Holiness

The ultimate goal of Jesus’ command to His disciples was far more than just sparing His elect from the eternal flames of hell.  It had a purpose and that purpose is centered in holiness.  Far from baptism statistics, Jesus was focused on His people and how they reflect the glory of God to all peoples across the world.  When we as believers become competitive and focused on getting high baptism statistics, we miss the point of the Great Commission.

From the very beginning, God has purposed to select His people from the population of humanity and His desire has been for them to be a set apart people – distinct – and holy unto Him.  That doesn’t mean that God expects His people to be peculiar in the sense of odd or strange.  God expects His people to be sanctified.  What does this sanctified life look like?  The entire book of 1 John explains that God’s people love God rather than the world.  Great Commission Christians go and reach people with a goal that extends far beyond the baptistry.  It has a goal of holiness.  J. C. Ryle provides a helpful reminder:

We must be holy, because this is one grand end and purpose for which Christ came into the world. . . . Jesus is a complete Saviour.  He does not merely take away the guilt of a believer’s sin, he does more—he breaks its power (1 Pet. 1:2; Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:9; Heb. 12:10). [1]

  1. J. C. Ryle, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots (Moscow, ID: Charles Nolan, 2011), 49.

DBG Weekend Spotlight (10-21-16)

DBG Weekend Spotlight (10-21-16)

Voddie Baucham said, “The home is the place where leaders of the church are forged.” In this sermon, Voddie Baucham addresses the subject of marriage from Ephesians.

Happy Daddy, Happy Home – There are many good nuggets to chew on here.

Albert Mohler talks about Trump candidacy on CNN – This is a helpful little clip from Albert Mohler as he engages the subject of presidential politics on CNN.

The Preacher’s Legacy – Every preacher has a legacy and it matters – good or bad.

Family Ministry: Caring for Your Pastor’s Children – I found this to be helpful and worthy of consideration.

Theology Word of the Week:  Creeds

Creeds. A creed (from the Lat. credo, ‘I believe’) is an authoritative statement of the main articles of the Christian faith to which believers are expected to assent. Broadly speaking, biblical religion has always been credal. Biblical and post-biblical Judaism confessed Yahweh’s absolute unity and uniqueness by the Shema‘: ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one’ (Dt. 6:4). The genesis of the church’s symbols (as creeds have been called from early times) resides in protocredal statements of faith and worship embedded in the NT (see Confessions of Faith). With the confession, ‘Jesus is Lord’ (Rom. 10:9; 1 Cor. 12:3) early Christians acknowledged that the Nazarene was to be spoken of in the same terms as Yahweh of the OT. The text interpolated at Acts 8:37, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God,’ represents a primitive Christian baptismal affirmation. Other NT credal formulas affirm Christ’s incarnation, saving death and glorious resurrection (Rom. 1:3–4; 1 Cor. 15:3–4; 1 Jn. 4:2). The great Christological passage Phil. 2:6–11 may have been sung at early Christian baptismal services. 1 Cor. 8:6 affirms the unity of God and the co-ordination of the Father with Jesus Christ. Finally in the NT a Trinitarian confessional pattern emerged (Mt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14; see Trinity), which became the paradigm for later credal formularies.

The apostolic fathers reflect what J. N. D. Kelly calls ‘quasi-credal scraps’, and the apologists a growing corpus of teaching that distils the essence of the Christian faith. What scholars refer to as the Old Roman creed (c. 140, Harnack) was an expanded Trinitarian baptismal formula: ‘I believe in God the Father Almighty and in Christ Jesus his Son, our Lord, and in the Holy Spirit, the holy Church, and the resurrection of the flesh.’ In the writings of Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian and Hippolytus is found the ‘rule of faith’, or ‘the tradition’, which was an informal corpus of teaching provided to catechumens. The so-called Apostles’ Creed, while not apostolic in authorship, is nevertheless apostolic in content. Its present form (8th century) represents a lengthy development from simpler Trinitarian baptismal formulas, particularly the Old Roman creed. The Apostles’ Creed indirectly refuted various heresies (e.g. Ebionites, Marcion, Gnostics, docetists) and was widely used in the West for instruction and worship. ‘The Creed of creeds’ (P. Schaff), it contains the fundamental articles of the Christian faith necessary to salvation.

The Creed of Nicaea (325), which was probably based on earlier creeds from Jerusalem and Antioch, was drafted to refute the Arian claim that the Son was the highest creation of God and thus essentially different from the Father. The Nicene Creed as we know it today represents in effect an enlargement of the teaching of the Creed of 325, probably approved by the Council of Constantinople (381). It affirms the unity of God, insists that Christ was ‘begotten from the Father before all time’, and declares that Christ is ‘of the same essence (homoousios) as the Father’. Thus the Son is God in every respect. The Creed also upheld the divinity of the Holy Spirit and his procession from the Father. In the West the phrase ‘who proceeds from the Father’ was later altered to read, ‘from the Father and the Son’. This so-called Filioque clause, that affirms the double procession of the Spirit, followed the teaching of Hilary, Ambrose, Jerome and Augustine and appears in the Athanasian Creed, but was rejected by the Eastern Church. It became the major doctrinal issue in the schism between East and West that came to a head in 1054.

The Athanasian Creed, or Quicunque vult (from the opening words of the Latin text), was written by an unknown author in the Augustinian tradition in Southern Gaul about the mid-5th century. It contains a clear and concise statement of the Trinity and the incarnation of Christ, both of which must be believed for salvation. Concerning the Trinity, the Creed affirms that ‘the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; and yet there are not three Gods but one God’. The articles on Christ uphold his eternal generation from the substance of the Father, his complete deity and complete humanity, his death for sins, resurrection, ascension, second coming and final judgment. The East never recognized the Athanasian Creed.

The Chalcedonian Definition was prepared by over 500 Greek bishops at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. In response to erroneous interpretations of the person of Christ advanced by Apollinarius, Nestorius and Eutyches (see Monophysitism), the Definition states that Jesus Christ is perfectly God and perfectly man, that he is consubstantial with God as to his divinity, and with mankind as to his humanity. Moreover, humanity and deity are joined in the God-man ‘without confusion, without change, without division, without separation’. Chalcedon represents the definitive statement, albeit in Greek ontological language, of how Jesus Christ was God and man at the same time.

Creeds have served a variety of functions in the church. Initially elemental creeds were used in a baptismal context. By responding to questions or reciting certain formulas which later became fixed, the baptismal candidate made confession of faith in Christ. Moreover, creeds were used for catechetical purposes, i.e. for instructing new Christians in the essentials of the faith. The creeds (especially the ‘rule of faith’) were also employed for confessional purposes, that is, to refute and expose the heretical teachings of the docetists, Gnostics, Monarchians, Arians and others. And finally, the creeds served a liturgical purpose as they were recited at various places in the worship services of the churches.

As for the authority of the creeds, the Eastern Orthodox churches ascribe authority to the decrees of the seven ecumenical councils, from the First Council of Nicaea (325) to the second at Nicaea (787). The Eastern churches have not accepted the Western doctrinal creeds and reject the Filioque addition to the Nicene Creed. Rome, on the other hand, claims infallibility for all the pronouncements of the magisterium. Traditionally the Apostles’, Nicene and Athanasian creeds were known as ‘the three symbols’. According to Rome the ancient credal formulas contain truths revealed by God and thus authoritative for all time. The Protestant Reformers accepted the Apostles’ Creed and the decrees of the first four councils by virtue of their agreement with Scripture, the only rule of faith and practice. Luther said of the Apostles’ Creed: ‘Christian truth could not possibly be put into a shorter and clearer statement’ (LW 37, p. 360). Calvin said of the formulas of the ecumenical councils: ‘I venerate them from my heart, and would have all of them held in due honour’ (Institutes IV.ix.1). The main branches of Protestantism value the four creeds discussed above as faithfully embodying the teachings of Scripture. Beginning with A. von Harnack critical scholarship has attacked the classical creeds for their reliance upon an alleged alien Greek philosophical system and an outmoded cosmology. Thus Protestants such as Tillich, Bultmann and J. A. T. Robinson claim that the ancient creeds possess little cash value in the modern world. Even Roman Catholics such as H. Küng and the Dutch compilers of the New Catechism (1966) claim that the creeds are human statements formulated in cultural contexts foreign to our own and are thus beset with serious limitations and even errors.

Orthodox Protestantism views each of the above-mentioned creeds as a norma normata, i.e. as a rule that is ruled by the final authority of the word of God. In general terms, the creeds expound ‘what has always been believed, everywhere, and by everyone’ (Vincentian Canon; see Catholicity). But ultimately even the best human formularies must be ruled by the infallible word of God. In sum, by virtue of their general agreement with Scripture, the orthodox creeds provide a valuable summary of universal Christian beliefs, refute teachings alien to the word of God, and are serviceable in Christian instruction and worship. [1]

  1. Sinclair B. Ferguson and J.I. Packer, New Dictionary of Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 179–181.