Friday, January 30, 2015

divine revelation

"Divine revelation is the source of all truth, the truth of Christianity included; reason is the instrument for recognizing it; Scripture is its verifying principle; logical consistency is a negative test for truth and coherence a subordinate test. The task of Christian theology is to exhibit the content of biblical revelation as an orderly whole." 

(Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, I:213)

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Isaac Watts' use of the Psalms

In 1719 Isaac Watts published The Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of The New Testament And Applied to The Christian State and Worship. This was a new metrical Psalter for singing in the churches, but he wrote the words, taken from the Psalms (OT), with a view to the Gospel (NT). In his preface he wrote a defense of this approach.  His words, which follow below, can also help guide us today as we read the Psalms in a Christ-centered way. 

"I come therefore to explain my own design, which is this, To accommodate the book of Psalms to Christian worship. And in order to do this, it is necessary to divest David and Asaph, etc., of every other character but that of a psalmist and a saint, and to make them always speak the common sense, and language of a Christian...
"Where the Psalmist uses sharp invectives against his personal enemies, I have endeavored to turn the edge of them against our spiritual adversaries, sin, Satan, and temptation. Where the flights of his faith and love are sublime, I have often sunk the expressions within the reach of an ordinary Christian: where the words imply some peculiar wants or distresses, joys, or blessings, I have used words of greater latitude and comprehension, suited to the general circumstances of men.
"Where the original runs in the form of prophecy concerning Christ and his salvation, I have given an historical turn to the sense: there is no necessity that we should always sing in the obscure and doubtful style of prediction, when the things foretold are brought into open light by a full accomplishment. Where the writers of the New Testament have cited or alluded to any part the Psalms, I have often indulged the liberty of paraphrase, according to the words of Christ, or his Apostles. And surely this may be esteemed the word of God still, though borrowed from several parts of the Holy Scripture. Where the Psalmist describes religion by the fear of God, I have often joined faith and love to it. Where he speaks of the pardon of sin, through the mercies of God, I have added the merits of a Saviour.
"Where he talks of sacrificing goats or bullocks, I rather choose to mention the sacrifice of Christ, the Lamb of God. When he attends the ark with shouting into Zion, I sing the ascension of my Saviour into heaven, or his presence in his church on earth. Where he promises abundance of wealth, honor, and long life, I have changed some of these typical blessings for grace, glory, and life eternal, which are brought to light by the gospel, and promised in the New Testament. And I am fully satisfied, that more honor is done to our blessed Saviour, by speaking his name, his graces, and actions, in his own language, according to the brighter discoveries he hath now made, than by going back again to the Jewish forms of worship, and the language of types and figures."  

the only haven of safety

"The only haven of safety is the mercy of God, as manifested in Christ, in whom every part of our salvation is complete.  

As all mankind are, in the sight of God, lost sinners, we hold that Christ is their only righteousness, since, 

by His obedience, He has wiped off all our transgressions; 
by His sacrifice, appeased the divine anger; 
by His blood, washed away our sins; 
by His cross, borne our curse; and 
by His death, made satisfaction for us.

We maintain that in this way man is reconciled in Christ to God the Father, by no merit of his own, by no value of works, but by gratuitous mercy.”

(John Calvin, A Reformation Debate)

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

imprecation in the Psalms

O God, break the teeth in their mouths; 
tear out the fangs of the young lions, O LORD!
Let them vanish like water that runs away; 
when he aims his arrows, let them be blunted...  
...Mankind will say, "Surely there is a reward for the righteous; 
surely there is a God who judges on earth."
(Psalm 58:6, 7, 11 ESV)

Fill their faces with shame, 
that they may seek your name, O LORD.
(Psalm 83:16 ESV)

“Imprecation” or “imprecatory” language is to speak a curse upon someone.  It is the opposite of giving a blessing or benediction.  As we read Psalms we are presented with a number of prayers – some quite strong – where the Psalmist calls down a curse, or prays for graphic judgment, upon others. (So, is it okay for us to pray for God to kick somebody in the teeth...?) 

In a journal article last century Chalmers Martin* gives perhaps the best explanation of the place of this language in the Psalter.  He begins by noting that in the Psalms “‘imprecations’ are not mere outbursts of the spirit of vengeance.”  He goes on to give three explanations for imprecations in the Psalms... 

“These so-called imprecations are the expression of the longing of an Old Testament saint for the vindication of God's righteousness.  How much this subject of theodicy, or the justification of the dealings of God with man, engaged the attention of the Old Testament writers is well known. The whole Book of Job is devoted to it...

“The second answer we may give to the question as to the real nature of these so-called imprecatory expressions is that they are, particularly in the mouth of David, utterances of zeal for God and God's kingdom. This will be the more plain when we remind ourselves that the kingdom of God existed at that time not under an ecclesiastical but under a political form--the form, namely, of a theocratic monarchy--and that to this divinely ordained kingship David sustained, and that consciously, a close official relation through the greater part of his life...

“Once more, and finally, these so-called imprecations are prophetic teachings as to the attitude of God toward sin and impenitent and persistent sinners. The psalms are not merely lyric poems, embodying the feelings of their authors; they are lyric poems composed under the influence of the Spirit of Inspiration, and as such are a part of God's revelation of Himself...

This can guide us, as New Testament believers today, in how to use these psalms in our own worship and prayer. So we are praying that the Lord's Kingdom will come in power, glory, and judgment. That all evil be judged. We can pray for the fulfillment of Romans 16:2 ("The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet") and 2 Thessalonians 1:50-8, for example.


*Above quotes of Chalmers Martin are found in the Princeton Theological Review 1.4 (1903) 537-53.  Public Domain.  The full article here

Monday, January 19, 2015

solid, sound leadership

It was a special treat for me as a young child to see Dwight Eisenhower (then President) in person when we lived at the Air Force Academy. I've profited from reading about his leadership during World War II.  The following is an excerpt of a letter he wrote on leadership in 1942.  

"This is a long road we have to travel. The men that can do things are going to be sought out just as surely as the sun rises in the morning. Fake reputations, habits of glib and clever speech, and glittering surface performance are going to be discovered and kicked overboard. Solid, sound leadership… and ironclad determination to face discouragement, risk, and increasing work without flinching, will always characterize the man who has a sure-enough, bang-up fighting unit. Added to this he must have a darn strong tinge of imagination—I am continuously astounded by the utter lack of imaginative thinking.… Finally, the man has to be able to forget himself and personal fortunes. I've relieved two seniors here because they got to worrying about 'injustice,' 'unfairness,' 'prestige,' ..." 

(Supreme Commander General Dwight David Eisenhower in a letter to General Vernon Prichard, August 27, 1942, quoted in The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, by Robert M. Edsel.  Photo above was taken in 1942.)

wheat and weeds

He put another parable before them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, 'Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?' He said to them, 'An enemy has done this.' So the servants said to him, 'Then do you want us to go and gather them?' But he said, 'No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'"  (Matthew 13:24-30 ESV)

Some ministry lessons:

1) There is an enemy -- a real, spiritual enemy -- of God's work. Be sober, stay on the alert. (1 Peter 5:8) Be aware things are not always as they seem: God's children can be immature and sinful; Satan's offspring can appear quite godly and respectable.  At any given stage we may not be able to tell the difference between them.  Our discernment is not infallible. 

2) The church in this age will always be wheat and weeds. They grow together. The great company of Israel, traveling in the wilderness, was a mixed multitude. (Exodus 12:38)  We should seek a pure church, but also realize that it is inevitable that good and evil will "grow together" side by side. Here's an amazing thing: the church is not as good as it should be, and the world is not as bad as it could be. (Common grace explains the latter, while remaining sin explains the former.)  

3) Take the long view in ministry. Time is the great revealer of natures. How many problems in ministry, seemingly unsolvable and resistant to all my efforts, have over time been sorted out by the Lord.  People have been reconciled; children have come back to the Lord; healing has been given. "How long, O Lord?" due time!  And some eventually leave the church because they are "not of us" (1 John 2:19).

4) Be careful you don't tear up the good with the bad. Beware prejudging and taking a wholesale approach which damages future growth and potential for change. To merely "do something" may be as bad as to "do nothing."  We can do much harm to that which is good while attacking that which is evil.

5) God will sort things out in the end.  It is his field and his harvest. He will separate and gather the wheat, and bind and destroy the weeds. We need not fret in the meantime. (Psalm 37) 

Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; 
fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, 
over the man who carries out evil devices!  
Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! 
Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.  
For the evildoers shall be cut off, 
but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land.  
In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; 
though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there.  
But the meek shall inherit the land 
and delight themselves in abundant peace. 
(Psalm 37:7-11 ESV) 


Monday, January 12, 2015

are we becoming posthumanists?

Wow. I read "Among The Disrupted," by Leon Wieseltier, a very insightful essay on the state of humans, information, and technology.  Some excerpts...

What does the understanding of media contribute to the understanding of life? Journalistic institutions slowly transform themselves into silent sweatshops in which words cannot wait for thoughts, and first responses are promoted into best responses, and patience is a professional liability.

Economists are our experts on happiness! Where wisdom once was, quantification will now be. Quantification is the most overwhelming influence upon the contemporary American understanding of, well, everything. It is enabled by the idolatry of data, which has itself been enabled by the almost unimaginable data-generating capabilities of the new technology. The distinction between knowledge and information is a thing of the past, and there is no greater disgrace than to be a thing of the past.

The notion that the nonmaterial dimensions of life must be explained in terms of the material dimensions, and that nonscientific understandings must be translated into scientific understandings if they are to qualify as knowledge, is increasingly popular inside and outside the university...

In American culture right now, as I say, the worldview that is ascendant may be described as posthumanism.

Here is a humanist proposition for the age of Google: The processing of information is not the highest aim to which the human spirit can aspire, and neither is competitiveness in a global economy. The character of our society cannot be determined by engineers.

Every technology is used before it is completely understood. There is always a lag between an innovation and the apprehension of its consequences. We are living in that lag, and it is a right time to keep our heads and reflect. We have much to gain and much to lose. In the media, for example, the general inebriation about the multiplicity of platforms has distracted many people from the scruple that questions of quality on the new platforms should be no different from questions of quality on the old platforms. Otherwise a quantitative expansion will result in a qualitative contraction. The new devices do not in themselves authorize a revision of the standards of evidence and argument and style that we championed in the old devices. 

Sentimentality is not always a counterfeit emotion. Sometimes sentiment is warranted by reality.

There is nothing soft about the quest for a significant life. And a complacent humanist is a humanist who has not read his books closely, since they teach disquiet and difficulty. In a society rife with theories and practices that flatten and shrink and chill the human subject, the humanist is the dissenter. Never mind the platforms. Our solemn responsibility is for the substance.

Read the full article here: "Among The Disrupted"

Artwork above is by Joon Mo Kang

Saturday, January 10, 2015


"Dogma" is word with negative connotations these days. Like stiff, antiquated, opinionated, autocratic.  A popular bumper sticker reads, "My karma ran over your dogma." 

So those of us who believe God's revealed truths can be stated meaningfully (and organized) often use the term "systematic theology." But the term "dogma" (or dogmatics) is valid because it refers to the certainty and stability of the things which we are called to believe. 

Dogmas, according to Herman Bavinck (Dutch theologian, 1854 - 1921) are God's revealed truths that we are to receive, trust with certainty, and act upon decisively. They are not stiff, but rather trustworthy. They are not dry, exhaustive statements about God and his reality.  He wrote that "mystery is the lifeblood of dogmatics."   

All churches, however, who receive God's revelation have a calling to be "confessing" churches, without being autocratic ones.  They are to have and proclaim truth as certainty, but not with self-important authority... 

...the church of Christ therefore has a certain task to fulfill with respect to dogma.  To preserve, explain, understand, and defend the truth of God entrusted to her, the church is called to appropriate it mentally, to assimilate it internally, and to profess it in the midst of the world as the truth of God.  It is most definitely not the authority of the church that makes a dogma into dogma in a material sense, elevates it beyond all doubt, and enables it to function with authority.  The dogmas of the church have, and may have, this status only if and to the degree they are the dogmas of God.  The power of the church to lay down dogmas is not sovereign and legislative but ministerial and declarative.  Still, this authority has been granted by God to his church, and it is this power that enables and authorizes her to confess the truth of God and to formulate it in speech and writing. 

(Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, I:30-31)

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

henry on creation care

"The basic issue in ecology, as in every other human problem, is not only the nature of man, nor even the nature of nature, but ultimately also the nature and will of God."  

(Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, II:100)

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

sunday notes - Hebrews 1

"The Greatness of Christ" (Hebrews 1:1-4)

The letter to the Hebrews, written in the mid-60s A.D., was addressed to a group of Jewish-background believers who had been feeling the weight of cultural opposition, both from the Roman and the Jewish cultures.  Many of the readers of Hebrews were feeling the temptation to give up, or give in.  Some had begun to drift from their faith, some had given up on church fellowship, some had returned to their Jewish culture and beliefs.

In the first four verses of chapter 1 we are presented with a majestic panorama, a great cosmic mural, of the greatness of the Person and work of the Lord Jesus.  There is similarity here with the portraits of Christ given also in John 1 and Colossians 1.

Put in graphic form this mural might look this way:

What a multidimensional Savior we have!  My main thought in this passage is that it's ultimately the greatness of Christ that keeps us going. The full view of his nature and work is what we should keep before our eyes as we face temptations to give up. 

Three uses of this passage:  

Content. This is the message that we preserve, present to others, and persevere in.  This is the gospel in its broadest form.  At the center is the atonement and resurrection, but Christ's identity from the past and into the future (note Heb 13:8) is part of this tapestry.  You cannot diminish any part of Christ's portrait without affecting the total picture.  To compromise any dimension of his nature is to deny him.  The Savior we present to the world must be the Jesus not of our own making, but Jesus as presented in Scripture.

Confidence. It is to this Lord that we look and fix our gaze upon (Heb 12:2). He himself is our motivation to keep walking faithfully with our Savior and Lord.  His unsurpassed greatness -- the supremacy of Christ in all things -- is our confidence and joy.  We shouldn't boast about anything regarding ourselves, but we should boast in the greatness of Christ!  (See Gal. 6:14 and 2 Cor. 10:17)  As ambassadors of his Kingdom we fly the embassy flags openly. 

Courage. This Person, this glorious Lord Jesus Christ... is the unique Son of God, the revelation, the Heir of all things, the upholder, creator, purifier..., which gives us the courage we need to keep on.  He is reigning over creation and our world now, working all things after his glorious will.  If he can uphold the universe, he can uphold you and me. If he is at the right hand of God, then I’m safe in him. If he atoned for my sins, then my sins are really forgiven.  If he is above the angels then there’s nothing Satan can accomplish against me.  

The greatness of Christ is what keeps us going. 

The Nicene Creed (AD 325)

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.  Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the living and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.  

Saturday, January 3, 2015

love of human praise

"The love of human praise—human glory—is universal and deadly. Jesus said, 'How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?' (John 5:44). You can’t. You can’t believe in the crucified Messiah as your supreme treasure and hero, and then love the exact opposite of the mind-set that took him to the cross."  

(John Piper)

holy love

"There is no real intimacy with the gospel that does not mean a new sense of God’s holiness, and it may be long before we realize that the same holiness that condemns is that which saves. There is no new insight into the cross that does not bring, whatever else come with it, a deeper sense of the solemn holiness of the love that meets us there."

(Carl Trueman, Fools Rush In Where Monkeys Fear to Tread)