Results tagged “Bible” from Reformation21 Blog

Time to Bury the Bibles?

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Few things bring out the hysteria in all of us like a presidential election. Perhaps only the close of a millennium (anyone remember Y2K?) can compete for catapulting Americans into a posture of fear and anxiety about their nation's collective future (or lack thereof). Don't get me wrong. I like to indulge in a bit of anxiety just as much as the next guy. And as I've contemplated, over the past few months, the direction our country might take under the leadership of candidate A or candidate B, I have often felt like I was nine years old again, reading a choose-your-own-adventure book where I'd managed to pursue a plot line with no remaining positive outcomes.

If asked, I suspect many American Christians would judge this most recent election the worst in our country's history (in terms, that is, of the perceived quality of their choices for supreme leader). But according to Daniel Dreisbach--in an article titled "The Wall of Separation" written several years ago for Christian Today--American Christians in election year 1800 felt just as worried, if not more so, than American Christians have in recent days about the future of their country under the leadership of either prospective president. The rather grim choice of leaders facing voters in 1800 was between the incumbent John Adams and Adam's own vice-president, Thomas Jefferson, two men who had played pivotal roles in the founding of the young nation.

The biggest problem early nineteenth-century Americans had with Jefferson was his purportedly suspect religious views and his supposed sympathy for the revolutionaries who had turned France on its head a decade earlier. Actually, the two worries went hand in hand. The French revolution, whatever aims it originally embodied, had evolved into pronounced efforts in 1792 and 1793 (during Robespierre's "reign of terror") to eradicate Christianity entirely from the country (the "de-Christianization of France"): Christian Scriptures and artifacts were destroyed; Church buildings were converted into stables or temples consecrated to Human Reason; towns, streets, and squares were stripped of their Christian names; the seven day (Christian) week was replaced with a more "rational" ten day week and the year of the French revolution was declared "year one" in the new dating system. Many Americans assumed that Jefferson's election would set America on a similar course, and that hard won religious freedoms of recent years would be forfeited.

Jefferson's stated religious convictions did little to assuage such fears. To be sure, Jefferson's religious views were considerably more conservative than those of the atheistic revolutionaries across the Atlantic who were championing the Cult of Reason. His views were closer, perhaps, to those of Robespierre, who himself championed the Cult of the Supreme Being as an alternative to the blatantly atheistic Cult of Reason. But to most Americans that seemed a distinction without a difference. Most Americans--quite rightly, in fact--recognized that you either accept God's own revelation of himself at face value or not, and that a "God" made in man's own image offers little improvement upon no God at all. In other words, Americans appropriately saw through Jefferson's claim to be a "real Christian" since the Christianity he embraced disallowed Christ's deity, Christ's virgin birth, Christ's resurrection, and other biblical accounts of the miraculous. The Gazette of the United States summarized Americans' perception of Jefferson's religious convictions when, shortly before the election of 1800, it declared a vote for Jefferson equivalent to a vote for "NO GOD".

But to many Americans, Jefferson was the lesser of two evils. Adams, after all, was the incumbent (and who ever likes that guy?). Plus he was a Presbyterian, and many Americans -- though not most, as things turned out -- deemed Presbyterianism one degree worse than rabid atheism. No matter his suspect religious views, Jefferson remained particularly popular among New England Baptists who were more invested (for obvious reasons) than other religious identities in disestablishment. Fears that Adams was secretly plotting to impose Presbyterianism on the nation in toto seemed to be reaching fulfillment when Adams called for a national day of fasting and prayer during his time in office -- no doubt Adams intended that everyone should pray to the Presbyterians' God!

In the end, of course, Jefferson won. And, as Dreisbach observes, that fact led some American Christians to bury their bibles in their back yards or hide them down their wells (presumably above the water line), confident that governmental forces would be knocking on their doors shortly to inaugurate the de-Christianization of the United States of America.

Of course, those authorities never came knocking. In fact, the bulk of the peoples' worst fears about what would come after 1800 never materialized. And, to bring it back to the present, I'm guessing the worst of our present-day fears about what's coming under our now president-elect probably won't be realized either. In part, that truth is simple testimony to our tendency towards hyperbolic anxieties. In even greater part, it's testimony to the fact that, come what will, "God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne" (Psalm 47:8).

 

"In time," Luther opined, "my books will lie forgotten in the dust." This was no lament on the Reformer's part. In fact, Luther found much "consolation" in the possibility -- or rather likelihood -- that his literary efforts would soon fade into oblivion. The dim view he apparently took of his own writings was intimately related to the high view he took of Sacred Scripture. Indeed, his high view of Scripture resulted in a rather dim view of all other writings, not just his own. "Through this practice [namely, writing and collecting books]," he wrote, "not only is precious time lost which could be used for studying the Scripture, but in the end the pure knowledge of the divine Word is also lost, so that the Bible lies forgotten in the dust under the bench." Making the same point in more colorful terms, Luther complained of the "countless mass of books" written over time which, "like a crawling swarm of vermin," had served to supplant the place which should belong to "the Bible" in the life of the Church and her people. In sum, Luther judged that folk would be better off reading and hearing the Bible than reading and hearing anything which he or anyone else had written, and the last thing he wanted to be found guilty of was producing words which distracted anyone from the Word.

On this score, Luther discovered hope that his own works would be soon forgotten in the sheer number of publications competing with his own in his day. "My books... will not last long. There is especially good hope of this, since it has begun to rain and snow books and teachers, many of which already lie there forgotten and moldering. Even their names are not remembered any more, despite their confident hope that they would eternally be on sale in the market and rule churches."

A second reason Luther took a dim view of his works is that he understood rather well how literary accomplishments can foster pride. In this regard, the Reformer offers some harsh -- and, true to form, fairly entertaining -- words to those who become inflated on the basis of their publications. I suspect, though it would be difficult to prove, that he addressed a proclivity he discovered in himself with his words. "If... you feel and are inclined to think you have made it, flattering yourself with your own little books...; if you are highly pleased when someone praises you in the presence of others; if you perhaps look for praise, and would sulk or quit what you are doing if you did not get it -- if you are of that stripe, dear friend, then take yourself by the ears, and if you do this in the right way you will find a beautiful pair of big, long, shaggy donkey ears. Then do not spare any expense! Decorate them with golden bells, so that people will be able to hear you wherever you go, point their fingers at you and say, 'See, See! There goes that clever beast, who can write such exquisite books.'" If, in other words, you write with the intent of garnering man's praise, and/or find yourself thriving upon the same, then go the extra mile: deck yourself out like the ass that you are and really draw attention to yourself.

I would guess that Luther's acute sensitivity to the dangers of pride that exist to writers, and his warning against publishing towards the end of bolstering one's ego, hold special relevance in our day, where one needs merely an internet connection, rather than a willing publisher, to broadcast his/her literary words of wisdom. I suspect, in other words, that blog posts and tweets have exponentially increased the existence of that specific kind of pride which Luther names in the quote above. His words are, in any case, a worthwhile reminder of the perils that threaten anyone who finds himself or herself in a position to put words on paper (or screen) which others stand likely to read.

Luther also offers some wonderful advice on how to write in a way that isn't directed towards self-promotion and pride. "All other writing" -- that is, writing other than Scripture -- "[should] lead the way into and point toward the Scriptures," rather than lead from and obscure the same. Words written in the service of Christ, in other words, should lead others to "drink" directly "of the fresh spring" itself -- that is, the Bible.

In my judgment, Luther's works accomplish the very thing he here suggests should be wrought by "all other writing" -- they lead one into a fuller and richer appreciation of Scripture, and of the one whose person and work Scripture ultimately proclaims. Perhaps that's one of the reasons that Luther's books have far outlived his own expectations for them.

Aaron Clay Denlinger is professor of church history and historical theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, Florida.

Shoehorning

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It may have been ever thus, but there seem to be an increasing number of books - often from the fields of biblical or systematic theology - that present themselves as having discovered or provided the overarching theme of the Scriptures as a whole, the lens through which the whole should be read and interpreted. At other times, there is a supposed historical precedent which, we are informed, must govern the way in which we handle not only uninspired texts, but even the Scriptures themselves. Perhaps there is even an experimental approach: we have had such-and-such an experience, therefore it must be validated by the Word of God.

Every other theme or text is then shoehorned into the grand scheme, trimmed and hammered until the squarest of pegs slide into the roundest of holes. Sometimes, there is something that is compelling about such presentations, and much light is shed on the Word of God. One might still not accept the demand that this be the point at which we stand in order to change the world, while appreciating the help given in seeing this as a weighty theme or principle. At other times, I am concerned at how blunt or even crass that process is, with some shallow little epithet becoming the cookie cutter into which every text or doctrine must be forced. We end up reading our Bibles with a combination of myopia and tunnel vision, and not just those that come of being fallen creatures.

At the same time, most of us are probably accustomed to reading the Bible through a certain set of lenses. We come to the Word of God with certain notions, and these - consciously or unconsciously, possibly even subconsciously - inform our hermeneutics. This is largely inevitable. We open the Bible with certain presuppositions, a certain system influencing if not governing the way in which we read.

As a result, we tend to find in the Scriptures what accords with our own convictions. You might recall John 'Rabbi' Duncan's attempt at self-definition: "I'm first a Christian, next a catholic, then a Calvinist, fourth a paedobaptist, and fifth a Presbyterian. I cannot reverse this order." I wonder if (with necessary adjustments and extensions, depending on our beliefs) we also read the Bible through those kinds of lenses, in more or less that order?

So the key question must be, who makes the lenses and sets them in the frames? Here is a great challenge for us if we are to be faithful and humble readers of the Scriptures. Prayerfully dependent on the Holy Spirit, we must adjust our lenses and our frames to ensure that the Scriptures come into focus as they are, and not adjust the Scriptures so that they can be read through our lenses and frames.

This, I think, is one of the particular things that I appreciate about the expositions of Calvin and some of the other older writers. Please understand that I am not seeking to set up a Calvin versus the Calvinists dichotomy, or necessarily trying to endorse the system that often goes by the name of Calvinism. Rather, I am talking about the way the man handles the Bible. And I think he handles the Bible humbly and faithfully. There is no doubt that he reads with certain presuppositions, as do we all. But when he reaches a given point in his handling of a text, and noticeably where it is something which pushes his system - starkly and mechanistically considered - out of shape, he does not start trying to kick the text into shape, but he takes off his shoes, for he is standing on holy ground. And that is something we all must do.

Spurgeon once said, "Brethren, we shall not adjust our Bible to the age; but before we have done with it, by God's grace, we shall adjust the age to the Bible." If we are to do that, we must also ensure that we do not adjust our Bible to the system, but the system to our Bible. As we read, we must allow every line to have its full and honest weight, to be interpreted historically and and linguistically and grammatically in accordance with righteous standards, and to submit to whatever we find. To be sure, we do not and cannot come nakedly to the Word of God, and it would be folly to suggest that we do and can. But let us be done with shoehorning the Bible, in the whole or in part, into a preordained system. If I find it in my Bible, I must believe it. If I do not, then I am not bound by it, and neither can I bind anyone else to it. We cannot use the Bible to legitimise what we have already decided must be true. If God's Word declares it, I receive it and embrace it, even if - where reason fails, with all its powers - there faith prevails and love adores. We worship even when - perhaps especially when - we cannot fully comprehend. Let us make sure that - whatever we start with - we are continually adjusting our frames and refining our lenses to ensure that the fixed points of the Word of God inform everything else that we believe or do, and live and worship accordingly.

6 Ways to Benefit from Reading Genealogies, by Matthew Holst

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Most Christians inwardly, if not outwardly, groan when they arrive at a genealogy in their Bible reading. This is a shame. The genealogies are wonderful and I love studying (not just reading) and preaching them.  They are compressed histories of God's faithful and loving dealings with his children, and, of his war against Satan. The genealogies in Scripture are so important that it may rightly be said that we cannot fully see the glory of the metanarrative (i.e. the storyline) of the Bible without them. Here are six tips for reading genealogies that I think will benefit the diligent reader...

Continue on Christward Collective.

Text link - http://info.alliancenet.org/christward/6-ways-to-benefit-from-reading-genealogies
Recently we had the opportunity to ask Dr. Joel Beeke, of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, a few questions about the soon to come KJV Reformation Study Bible (due out in November). Dr. Beeke has been a regular speaker of the Alliance and is a good friend of the ministry. With his earnest promotion of the KJV, a study Bible out of his team is no surprise. 

1. What was at the core of your motivation to create another study Bible?
I longed to see a KJV Study Bible that was Reformed, experiential, and useful for personal and family worship. 

2. What are some of the major advances here that we can't find in other Bibles?
Study Bibles generally aim to instruct the mind with features such as introductions to the books of the Bible, notes on various verses, short articles on important doctrines and topics, a Bible reading plan, concordance, maps, etc. The Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible has all of that, of course, but it also has more. 

This Study Bible aims not just to instruct the mind, but also to feed the soul. The feature that especially excites me is the "thoughts for personal/family worship" for every chapter in the Bible. They draw out applications from that chapter and often include questions for meditation or discussion. They help readers to see how all the Bible points to Jesus Christ. I know that heads of households often find it difficult to lead family devotions. It is our prayer that God will use this Bible to equip them to lead their families in profitable devotions, one chapter at a time. This practical focus of the Study Bible is supplemented by a section of three dozen articles written by godly pastors on how to live the Christian life.

The Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible also aims to help contemporary Christians discover their roots in the historic church. The contributors of notes are men who value and study the old writings while keeping up with recent insights. Many of the theological articles are drawn from the Reformers and Puritans. In the back of the Bible are included twenty snapshots of church history through the centuries, and ancient creeds, confessions, and catechisms. This Study Bible springs from the conviction that the old paths are good paths, and still relevant for today.

3. Why have you chosen the King James Version for this Bible?
I certainly respect my brothers and sisters in Christ who use other translations of the Bible. However, I am convinced that the King James Version (or Authorized Version) remains the best choice for personal and pastoral use. It is the standard text of the English Bible, and has been so for centuries. It takes time to assess a translation, and sometimes new translations that are greeted with great enthusiasm are later found to have serious weaknesses. 

The KJV is well-known as a faithful, word-for-word translation. This reflects the character of the fifty men who translated it, for they were not only able scholars in the original languages, but also God-fearing men of sound doctrine who loved the Bible as the inerrant Word of God. Sometimes people make fun of the old terms "thee" and "thou," but in fact they communicate with greater clarity and precision because they identify the person addressed as singular, as opposed to the plural "ye" and "you"--which can be a key point in interpreting the text. 

4. So the next logical question is, why do we need another KJV Study Bible?
There is no KJV Study Bible on the market whose notes were written from the consistently Reformed perspective. Furthermore, this Study Bible was written with a desire to serve people who are not familiar with the KJV. For this reason, the notes explain many words and phrases that are now strange to modern ears. And, as I mentioned before, many articles are drawn from the writings of men like John Calvin, John Owen, and the Dutch Further Reformation. This Study Bible passes on the legacy of the Reformation to its readers.

5. How hard was it to get John Calvin and John Owen to file their submissions?
Calvin took over 450 years to get it in. Owen was about a century faster, but his submission was much too long, so we had to abridge it!

6. Seriously, this must have been hard work, how long have you been working towards this?
It all started with a conversation I had with Michael Barrett over lunch about five years ago. We were delighted to discover that we both had the same dream of a Reformed KJV Study Bible. The notes we scribbled on a napkin proved to be the genesis of this project. Dr. Barrett is an experienced scholar in Hebrew and the Old Testament, so he took up the role of Old Testament editor. Gerald Bilkes, who has his PhD from Princeton Theological Seminary and has taught biblical studies for years at our seminary, became the New Testament editor. I served as the general editor. Paul Smalley provided invaluable help as my assistant. As contributors, the editors and another dozen men, have worked on preparing the study notes for two years. The last nine months have been an especially intense time for us as every note in the Bible passed through multiple layers of editorial review. The team also worked hard to prepare the many introductions and articles that fill the Study Bible. It has been one of the most difficult projects we have ever undertaken, but worth every bit of effort.

7. If I were to carry just one Bible, would you suggest this is it?
Yes, because in this one volume you would be carrying an excellent resource for personal devotions and family worship, short articles that you could use to talk with friends about the Lord and the Christian life, insights from great teachers of the Reformation and Puritans, the confessions and catechisms often used in Christian worship and study classes, and above all, the Word of God in a trustworthy, tried, and true translation.

http://kjvstudybible.org/

Available November 1st.
 
Find out more:
Documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PB2_g-MIysg
Short Introduction: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcASigaI9iQ

Why Am I Pursuing a PhD in Hebrew?

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In 2010, John Piper was asked, "Should pastors get PhDs?" He responded, 

"If you're already a pastor, I wouldn't get a PhD. It's a lot of work, and the payoff is really small. Really small. When I say really small, I don't mean studying the Bible is small payoff. But the way most PhD programs are set up it is small payoff. Because you have to read so much junk in order to get your PhD. You have to become an expert in what other people are saying, most of which is wrong. And if you're a pastor, set yourself to study the Bible and take courses. But don't worry about a degree for goodness' sake."

Piper later goes on to state that if a person is pursuing the pastorate but also desires to receive a PhD, "I would much rather you do a wise PhD--that is, go to a place where they really let you study the Bible mainly." While I would arrange my response to the question a bit differently than Dr. Piper, it appears the thrust of his comments suggest that whatever additional education a pastor, or aspiring pastor, pursues should aid him in a further understanding of the holy Bible. If that is his analysis, I agree. However, that still leaves a wide range of doctoral possibilities. In my case, why Hebrew?

Before proceeding, please understand that I am writing from a certain perspective. In God's providence, I have been given the opportunity to pursue a PhD. Many pastors are unable to walk the aisle of doctoral training. In fact, many ministers do not have a seminary education. If one is unable to pursue either, that does not mean he cannot accurately interpret the scriptures. He may be unable to plunge the depths of scripture linguistically, but he still, along with the apostle Paul, can say, "And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:1-2). 

Where, then, do I find inspiration to pursue a doctorate in Hebrew?

1. God

With the same thrust Paul exhorted Pastor Timothy, the Holy Spirit exhorts pastors today, saying, "I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching" (2 Tim. 4:1-2). As a minister, I am called to both understand and preach the word of God. But what is the word of God? Is it the KJV? NASB? ESV?

During my first semester in seminary I recall being throughly disturbed. One of my former professors announced, quite confidently to the class, as he held an ESV in his hand, "This is not the word of God." I remember thinking, "What have I gotten myself into? Have I enrolled in a 'liberal' seminary?" While some might suggest the professor overstated his case, especially in light of WCF 1.8, it seems that his motivation for making that declaration was to point us to biblical languages (i.e., Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek), which are more closely aligned with the original autographs of the holy Bible. To know the word of God, according to a former professor, is to know the original languages.

The benefits of knowing the biblical languages, particularly Hebrew in my case, are numerous. My studies have provided a greater understanding of the Old Testament and ability to interact with Bible translations and commentators. Regarding the latter, it may be beneficial to note the commentator's education. Many of them do not have doctorates in Old Testament theology. More than that, they do not have a Hebrew linguistics background. It would seem, when interacting with commentators, one would desire scholars who are particularly trained in that area of scripture. After all, if you were having difficultly seeing, would you arrange an appointment with a cardiologist who has general medical training or an optometrist? In my experience, when I read commentators who do not have specialized training in the Old Testament, many of them recycle information from other commentators and provide more a comparative analysis of the passage versus diving into the text of scripture linguistically.

Having a specialized degree, however, does not guarantee an accurate interpretation of the scriptures. At a minimum, it should provide a foundational knowledge that allows one to interact with God's word--Hebrew--in the Old Testament. What happens from there depends on the scholar's disposition toward God and the scriptures.

2. The saints of old

John Currid writes, "When we consider the Reformation, it is usually characterized by the Latin expressions sola scriptura, sola gratia, and sola fides. And, indeed, these are principal teachings of the reformers and truths that we ought to hold to dearly. Yet, I would argue that the commitment of the reformers to the study of the original languages of the Bible was one of the hallmarks or emblems of the Reformation. It was the Reformation that gave the study of the biblical languages their true significance with a definite goal: to obtain a serious and impartial understanding of the Scriptures..." (Calvin and the Biblical Languages, 69). Earlier in his book, Currid underscores the importance of the biblical languages not simply for the reformers generally but John Calvin more specifically. Apparently, "Calvin entered the pulpit carrying only his Hebrew Old Testament and his Greek New Testament..." (28).

More recently, both J. G. Machen and B. B. Warfield mentioned the importance of knowing the original languages.

J. Gresham Machen, during a presidential convocation address at WTS, said, "If you are to tell what the Bible does say, you must be able to read the Bible for yourself. And you cannot read the Bible for yourself unless you know the languages in which it was written... Hence, if we want to know the scriptures, to the study of Greek and Hebrew we must go" ("Westminster Theological Seminary: Its Purpose and Plan," in J. Gresham Machen: Selected Shorter Writings, 188-89).

B. B. Warfield wrote, "If the minister is the mouth-piece of the Most High, charged with a message to deliver, to expound and enforce; standing in the name of God before men, to make known to them who and what this God is, and what his purposes of grace are, and what his will for his people [is]--then, the whole aspect of things is changed. Then, it is the prime duty of the minister to know his message; to know the instructions which have been committed to him for the people, and to know them thoroughly; to be prepared to declare them with confidence and with exactness, to commend them with wisdom, and to urge them with force and defend them with skill, and to build men up by means of them into a true knowledge of God and of his will, which will be unassailable in the face of the fiercest assault. No second-hand knowledge of the revelation of God for the salvation of a ruined world can suffice the needs of a ministry whose function it is to convey this revelation to men, commend it to their acceptance and apply it in detail to their needs. . . . For such a ministry . . . nothing will suffice for it but to know; to know the Book; to know it first hand; and to know it through and through. And what is required first of all for training men for such a ministry is that the Book should be given them in its very words as it has come from God's hand and in the fulness of meaning, as that meaning has been ascertained by the labors of generations of men of God who have brought to bear upon it all the resources of sanctified scholarship and consecrated thought" (Warfield, "Our Seminary Curriculum").

3. My former professor

Miles Van Pelt, professor at RTS and visiting professor at Westminster Seminary California, encouraged me to pursue additional education in Hebrew. Besides his personal encouragement, his vigor and depth of understanding of the Old Testament were inspiring. His constant refrain in class, as he taught us the intricacies of Hebrew, was, "I want you love Jesus more." That was his motivation for teaching Hebrew. How fitting! It still affects me today.

Much more could be said regarding my pursuit of a doctorate in Hebrew, but for the purposes of keeping this post somewhat short, I will end here. For additional considerations regarding your pursuit of a PhD, please read Dr. Jones' post.

Finders and keepers

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I have just seen two profoundly moving videos at Justin Taylor's blog. The second I have seen before: the Kimyal tribe of West Papua, Indonesia, receiving New Testaments in their own language for the first time. The first, equally telling, is much briefer, showing believers in China rushing to receive Bibles in their language for the first time. They hug them, weep over them, and then the sudden hubbub subsides as they open them reverently and lovingly, and begin to drink in the truth.

I don't know how many Bibles you have in your home, or how many translations you have one tap of your finger away, or how many Bible study tools are at your disposal. I would imagine that almost none of us struggle to obtain the Word of God.

The Word of the living God.

The out-breathed truth of the Creator and Saviour of mankind.

Has familiarity bred contempt? Do we value the truth as we should? With what eagerness or languor will you go to church tomorrow to hear the Word of God read and preached? Will once be enough? How often do you turn to it during the week?

Such questions put me in mind of the story of John "Roaring" Rogers, preacher at Dedham in Essex at the beginning of the seventeenth century, where he had a reputation as "one of the most awakening preachers of the age." His gift lay in his distinctive delivery of the sound and careful sermons which he prepared, and so well-known did Rogers and his preaching become that godly people used to say to one another, "Let us go to Dedham to fetch fire."

Several well-known anecdotes capture something of the fervency and intensity of Rogers the preacher and his self-forgetful earnestness in the pulpit. Thomas Goodwin, himself to become a renowned preacher and scholar, tells of how he went to hear Rogers preach before he was converted, not imagining that anyone would be able to touch his conscience. Goodwin reported his experience to John Howe, who recorded it in this way:
He told me that being himself, in the time of his youth, a student at Cambridge, and having heard much of Mr. Rogers of Dedham, in Essex, purposely he took a journey from Cambridge to Dedham to hear him preach on his lecture day. And in that sermon he falls into an expostulation with the people about their neglect of the Bible [I am afraid it is more neglected in our days]; he personates God to the people, telling them, "Well, I have trusted you so long with my Bible; you have slighted it; it lies in such and such houses all covered with dust and cobwebs. You care not to look into it. Do you use my Bible so? Well, you shall have my Bible no longer." And he takes up the Bible from his cushion, and seemed as if he were going away with it, and carrying it from them; but immediately turns again and personates the people to God, falls down on his knees, cries and pleads most earnestly, "Lord, whatsoever thou cost to us, take not thy Bible from us; kill our children, burn our houses, destroy our goods; only spare us thy Bible, only take not away thy Bible." And then he personates God again to the people: "Say you so? Well, I will try you a little longer; and here is my Bible for you, I will see how you will use it, whether you will love it more, whether you will value it more, whether you will observe it more, whether you will practice it more, and live more according to it." But by these actions [as the Doctor told me] he put all the congregation into so strange a posture that he never saw any congregation in his life. The place was a mere Bochim, the people generally [as it were] deluged with their own tears; and he told me that he himself when he got out, and was to take horse again to be gone, was fain to hang a quarter of an hour upon the neck of his horse weeping, before he had power to mount, so strange an impression was there upon him, and generally upon the people, upon having been thus expostulated with for the neglect of the Bible.
Neglect of the Bible. Careless disregard for the Word of the Most High and Most Holy. You are not entitled to it, and God is not obliged to provide it. Does your neglect and the prospect of God's response bother you? What if the Lord is saying, even now, "I will try you a little longer; and here is my Bible for you, I will see how you will use it, whether you will love it more, whether you will value it more, whether you will observe it more, whether you will practice it more, and live more according to it."

Count your copies. Peruse your programmes. Appraise your apps. Do not imagine that he cannot yet take it away.

Effective personal evangelism: understanding

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To date, we have looked briefly at love, tenacity, boldness and consistency as particular features of the effective personal evangelist.

The fifth mark of the effective personal evangelist is understanding. We have said that we do not need special training - a degree course, or formal, academic, theological instruction, for example - but the effective personal evangelist does need to be man or woman of understanding. We must be men and women of God's book, praying constantly for the wisdom that only God, through his Spirit, can provide to us (Jas 1.5). We need to know the truth about ourselves, about God, and about our hearers. We must understand our own limitations, gifts, and opportunities. So we might say, and rightly, that we are not particularly well-equipped to explain the gospel to someone, but we might be particularly effective in persuading or compelling others to come and hear someone who is so able. We need to understand God himself: how and what he speaks, and how and in what ways he acts. We need to understand our hearers, which will prevent us from becoming discouraged on the one hand while also, on the other, providing us with our proper 'targets' in making Christ known. We must be properly adaptable. When Paul said, "I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some" (1Cor 9.22), he was not giving us a model for the church's corporate activity, suggesting that the church needs to become more like the world in order to be effective. He means that as individual believers we need to show a righteous accommodation. For example, if I am invited to go and discuss something with a Muslim in a mosque, becoming all things to all men will involve me removing any hat and shoes I am wearing. I am able to eat any food that is offered to me, without asking questions. If I am going to win someone to Christ, adapting to their expectations and circumstances where there is no principle of obedient righteousness involved and not demanding what I am not entitled to expect may give me gospel opportunities I would otherwise have lacked. Furthermore, we must unfold the truth appropriately. There is, for example, a difference - in measure - between the way that you would explain the same saving truth to a Muslim, to someone brought up in nominal Christianity, and to someone who has never heard of Jesus Christ before. You do not change the essential substance, but you might have a different point of entry, a different set of illustrations, or a different emphasis. We need discernment in these things. We need to be wise as to what we say on the first occasion when we meet someone, and how far we carry our conversation on that occasion. Some will show immediate appetite to plunge on, others will be much more wary. We need to make sure that we say what is needful, but we do not always need to say everything, and might have opportunity to return on another occasion. So, in the part of Britain where I usually work, I might be told that someone is busy and cannot talk just now. I might then suggest that another time might be more convenient. "Oh, yes, of course," is the response, often a polite British way of communicating the hope that I will never darken the door again. Consistency and tenacity will, however, return on the basis of the promise made, hoping that the same politeness will eventually provide a more convenient time. We also need to understand when the time might have come to hold our tongues and move on. We do not often, literally, put our foot in the door. We might need to wait for our opportunity. So I think of one angry atheist of distinctive appearance who - after we had first spoken to her - visited all her immediate neighbours to warn them about us. Not long after, I happened to be present when a medical crisis arose in the same spot, and obtained an opportunity to explain to those very neighbours who I was, what we were doing, and how we were operating, in a context in which they could see we had no dodgy motives. One thing that would be profitable is to make it a practice to memorise our Bibles: the grasp of the truth and the ability to handle it reactively and proactively provided by such storing up of the Scriptures cannot be underestimated. We need a working grasp of the whole Bible, a grand overview of special revelation, and we need hearts and minds well stocked with the truth. This does not mean that someone cannot be effective until they know large chunks of the Bible, but we do need accurately to know God and his truth in order to communicate the truth effectively. We would do well to read books that help us to explain the gospel, equipping us with information that we can clearly communicate, teaching us how to counter typical unbelieving responses to divine truth. We need to understand in some measure the Lord himself, his truth, our own hearts and gifts, the character and situation of the people we are dealing with, and the circumstances into which we go.

"We must take it all"

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D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones on the unity of Scripture:
Higher criticism is man picking and choosing out of the Scriptures, believing what he likes and rejecting, or ignoring, the rest. It is man failing to submit himself completely and utterly to the whole of the Scriptures. And I believe that this is one of the most urgent problems confronting us today. There are even evangelical people who no longer believe the first three chapters of the book of Genesis. They are not believing all the Scriptures. But until we come back to a belief in all the Scriptures we shall be in trouble because we are setting ourselves up as authorities, and we are not competent to deal with the problems that face us. If we pick and choose, and believe this and reject that, we will ultimately have no authority whatsoever. We are so anxious to please the modern scientists, the modern educated people, that we have lost our gospel.

The Bible is a unity. We must take it all. It not only teaches us salvation, but it teaches us creation. It tells us now God made the world and how he is eventually going to restore the whole cosmos. If you begin to pick and choose from the Scriptures, you will soon end in a state of dejection. This is what the Christian church has been doing for so long, and it is not surprising that things are as they are. Here is our Lord telling these men [on the road to Emmaus], and I believe he is saying it to us today, that we must submit to the Scriptures completely, entirely, whether we understand them or not. Whether we can reconcile everything or not, we must submit to it. We must say that we believe this is the Word of God and we believe everything it says. It is history. It is an account of the creation and the fall. All these events that are presented as facts we must accept as facts; otherwise we shall soon be doubting the fact of Christ himself and even the very being of God. Here is our Lord's own analysis. There is a unity in the Scripture that must never be broken. There is a wholeness and a completeness, and it is only as we submit to this that we can look to the real solution to our problems.
Setting Our Affections Upon Glory: Nine Sermons on the Gospel and the Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 81. [A.com/A.co.uk]

"More light, Lord!"

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Light is one of those commodities, like oxygen, much underestimated until one finds oneself in need of it. I am particularly conscious of this because my desk light - a quite splendid piece of kit - decided to pack up rather suddenly a few days ago. Being a sentimental type, I sent it off to the manufacturer in the hope of its being restored, but - having gone under the knife in some electronic operating theatre somewhere in England - it was recently declared most definitely deceased.

But it means I have been without light. To be sure, even in the UK in October, there's a smidgen of daylight that filters through the window from time to time. And yes, the general illumination provided by the main light in the room, and even some assistance from the angled reading light in the corner, alleviate the gloom somewhat. But there is nothing - I repeat, nothing - to compare with the vibrant beams of pure brilliance that not so long ago washed out of my much-missed and too-much-presumed-upon and sincerely-mourned desk light.

But good news! Today brought a matutinal delivery of light - not the watery gleam of a British sunrise, but a replacement desk light - and now I sit here in a pool of white brilliance, bathed once more in happy illumination, and actually able to work without straining the wearied eyes beyond the point of no return.

"So what?" I hear you cry. "What hath Walker's desk lighting to do with us?"

Well, nothing, at first glance, but remember, if you will, the record of that wonderful preacher, John 'Roaring' Rogers of Dedham, of whose preaching people exhorted one another, "Let us go to Dedham to fetch fire."

Several well-known anecdotes capture something of the fervency of Rogers the preacher, his self-forgetful earnestness in the pulpit. In one of them, Thomas Goodwin, himself to become a renowned preacher and scholar, went to hear Rogers preach before he was converted, not imagining that anyone would be able to touch his conscience. Goodwin reported his experience to John Howe, who recorded it in this way:
He told me that being himself, in the time of his youth, a student at Cambridge, and having heard much of Mr. Rogers of Dedham, in Essex, purposely he took a journey from Cambridge to Dedham to hear him preach on his lecture day. And in that sermon he falls into an expostulation with the people about their neglect of the Bible [I am afraid it is more neglected in our days]; he personates God to the people, telling them, "Well, I have trusted you so long with my Bible; you have slighted it; it lies in such and such houses all covered with dust and cobwebs. You care not to look into it. Do you use my Bible so? Well, you shall have my Bible no longer." And he takes up the Bible from his cushion, and seemed as if he were going away with it, and carrying it from them; but immediately turns again and personates the people to God, falls down on his knees, cries and pleads most earnestly, "Lord, whatsoever thou cost to us, take not thy Bible from us; kill our children, burn our houses, destroy our goods; only spare us thy Bible, only take not away thy Bible." And then he personates God again to the people: "Say you so? Well, I will try you a little longer; and here is my Bible for you, I will see how you will use it, whether you will love it more, whether you will value it more, whether you will observe it more, whether you will practice it more, and live more according to it." But by these actions [as the Doctor told me] he put all the congregation into so strange a posture that he never saw any congregation in his life. The place was a mere Bochim, the people generally [as it were] deluged with their own tears; and he told me that he himself when he got out, and was to take horse again to be gone, was fain to hang a quarter of an hour upon the neck of his horse weeping, before he had power to mount, so strange an impression was there upon him, and generally upon the people, upon having been thus expostulated with for the neglect of the Bible.
Underestimated light. Nothing compares to the Word of God for true illumination. The faint gleams of natural revelation and human reason are light, to be sure, but they are distant candles to the present white light of God's holy Word. And yet how ready we are to wander around in the gloom, imagining that we see well and sufficiently while we are for the most part blind.

Would it bother you to be without your Bible? Could you preach without it? Live without it? Worship without it? Perhaps we have learned a casual neglect of that which is more precious than thousands of pieces of gold and silver (Ps 119.72)?

How little we value it, but what if it were taken away? What if the Lord deprived us of what is a gracious gift, not a natural right? How quickly would we learn the limitations of natural revelation and human wisdom, how soon would we cry out to God to restore to us again the pure brightness of his revelation, rising to its heights in the dawning of the Sun of Righteousness, that we might once more have a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps 119.105).

The story is told of a debate in the seventeenth century, I think it may have been among the Westminster divines. One man stood and was making a powerful address concerning some particular point. His opponent in the matter was observed to be writing fairly constantly on his paper. When his turn came, this opponent rose to his feet and delivered a magnificent oration, well-ordered and insightful, Scriptural and compelling, profound and persuasive.

When this tour de force was completed, a man nearby glanced at the notes that had prompted this outpouring of genuine and gracious eloquence, and found a single phrase repeated over and over across the page: "More light, Lord!"

May God grant that we should value in some appropriate measure the fact that he has spoken to us in these last days in his Son, and that his Spirit has moved men to record these saving and sanctifying truths in the Word written, and that "the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness . . . has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2Cor 4.6). How shall we see, how shall we walk, if the Lord does not give us his light? Let us not underestimate the illumination we have been given. Let us not neglect our Bibles. Let it be our constant and humble prayer, "More light, Lord!"

What Are You Interested in?

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I came across this gem in editing an upcoming book on the doctrine of Scripture, from our own Dr. J. Ligon Duncan, III, on 2 Tim 3:16-17. Pastor and people: read these lines carefully before the Lord's Day:

"Put in popular terms, the apostle Paul is saying that the Bible is inherently practical. It is not your pastor's job to make it practical. It already is. It's the most practical book in the world. And the only reason we think it's impractical to hear the Word of God expounded is that we're interested in other questions and other things. But I want to tell you this: it is the questions addressed and the things spoken of in the Word of God that are truly practical. And if we are interested in other questions and other things, we're interested in the wrong things, because there is nothing impractical in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation."

The PC(USA) Inches Closer to Ordination of Homosexuals

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From the Charlotte Observer:

In a close vote that reflected deep division, Presbyterian church leaders representing the Charlotte area signaled their support Saturday for ending their denomination's longstanding ban on gays and lesbians becoming pastors and elders.

In past years, the Charlotte Presbytery - the fourth largest in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) - had backed the prohibition. But after a spirited, civil debate in the chapel at Johnson C. Smith University, the presbytery voted 133-124, with one abstention, to reverse itself.

That means that the seven-county Charlotte Presbytery is now on record as backing a proposed amendment to the denomination's constitution that would open the door to - though not automatically guarantee - ordination of homosexuals.

In a bit of irony, the paper quotes a female Assistant Pastor in opposition to the move:

"It was the right thing for the presbytery to do," said the Rev. Tom Tate of Charlotte's Plaza Presbyterian, one of four pastors - two on each side - who addressed the gathering. "While I am glad for those affected, I am sad that the close vote says the church may be so divided."

The proposed amendment weakens "The Fidelity and Chastity" section (G-6.0106b) governing the moral conduct of church officers.  The task force's recommendation, report and rationale are available here.

The revised section deletes the following language:

Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.

While retaining the language below:

Those who are called to ordained service in the church, by their assent to the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003), pledge themselves to live lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church, striving to follow where he leads through the witness of the Scriptures, and to understand the  Scriptures through the instruction of the Confessions. In so doing, they declare their fidelity to the standards of the Church. Each governing body charged with examination for ordination and/or installation (G-14.0240 and G-14.0450) establishes the candidate's sincere efforts to adhere to these standards.

It's not at all clear to me how an ordained minister can pledge to live a life obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church while simultaneously refusing to acknowledge or repent of extramarital, pre-marital, or homosexual sin. 

But then again, the task force arrived at this recommendation by allowing each individual uninterrupted and unlimited time to state their opinion and desired outcomes.  What emerged, in their opinion, was "a Spirit filled revelation of persons, including a broadly diverse viewpoints and positions, that was received by the group with respect and awe. The very simply process of self declaration without interruption was profound, validated persons and led to an ethos of mutual respect even though those declarations were very different."

A "revelation of persons" that "validated persons" is bound to lead to plain contradictions of the word of God and rebellion against the Head of the Church.

I have been involved in a friendly, and hopefully fruitful, discussion over at Green Baggins regarding Bible interpretation.  I have been encouraged to post here some of my comments there.  Because I am excerpting from a conversation, I will have to do so in the form of questions and answers.  The questions cited here may not always be actual ones from there, but attempt to sum up the path of the conversation.

First Question: Isn't the Bible itself insufficient for developing a method of Bible interpretation?  Don't we need to engage in critical studies, to include significant input from outside the Bible?

The Renewal We Need

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Writing in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, David Wells explains what our church and our culture need:

"The renewal of which we stand in need, I believe, is of both the understanding of truth and of our knowledge of the God of that truth. It is not one or the other but it is the one and the other. This written Word, this Word of dignity, accosts us because it is true in and of itself and because, as true, it is the vehicle through which we are summoned to stand before the God of that truth. It is by this Word that he, in fact, intrudes upon us, invades our private space, demands that our choices conform with his, and commands that we stand out as those who belong to another age and time, one which is eternal. It is this hearing, in fact, which will reintroduce the very unconventionality which is so conspicuous by its absence in our culturally conventional kind of believing today." 

Over the past week I have had the opportunity to review advance proofs of the ESV Study Bible that is planned for publication in October of 2008.  Although I have not participated in this project, I have watched it unfold with great interest and anticipation.  From what I have seen so far, I believe it will be the world's best complete single-volume resource for reading, studying, and teaching the Bible.

 

Some readers will be aware of my enthusiasm for the Reformation Study Bible, especially the edition with the English Standard Version.  "The gold standard for study Bibles," I have called it.  Some will also be aware of my involvement with the Literary Study Bible that Crossway published last fall.  I will continue to recommend both of those resources.  However, the ESV Study Bible includes some of the best features of those study Bibles while at the same time providing a lot more.

 

Needless to say, the ESV Study Bible features the English Standard Version, which I believe to be the best English Bible translation for family discipleship and church ministry.  Finally the ESV has the full-fledged study Bible that it deserves. 

 

The ESV Study Bible was produced by a team of leading evangelical scholars--all of them experts in the Bible and its theology, and all of them committed to the inerrancy of Scripture.  The theological orientation of the team is Reformed, with broad representation from institutions across the evangelical landscape.  As one would expect, there is a wealth of grammatical, cultural, theological, historical, and archaeological information in the articles, book introductions, and verse-by-verse notes.

 

 In addition, there are two excellent features that are absent from most other study Bibles: genre notes highlighting literary features of the Bible (produced by my father, Leland Ryken) and biblical-theological notes showing how the history of redemption finds its fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus Christ (produced by Westminster Seminary's Vern Poythress).  Both of these factors - the literary and the redemptive-historical - are critical for a complete understanding of the Bible, and it is exciting to see them incorporated into this project.

 

The ESV Study Bible makes a big impact visually.  Exceptional attention has been given to producing new maps, charts, and visual illustrations of places in the Bible.  These stunningly beautiful images will draw readers back to the study Bible again and again, giving them a deeper understanding of the physical geography of the Old and New Testaments.

 

I look forward to seeing the whole ESV Study Bible when it is finished, and to studying its notes more carefully.  But what I have seen so far leads me to believe that Crossway is producing the apotheosis of the study Bible.

 

 

18 Words

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Given the attention to Jim Packer's split with the Anglican Church of Canada, I wanted to draw some attention to one of his best writing projects, recently published in Scotland by Mentor under the title 18 Words: The Most Important Words you will ever Know. Originally published as a series of word studies in the magazine Inter-Varsity, Packer explores eighteen key concepts in theology, including 'Scripture', 'Sin', 'Reconciliation', 'Mortification', etc. It's great stuff: vintage Packer, as expressed in this quotation from the chapter on grace:

 

"... the moral law expresses the will of God for man as man. It was never meant as a method of salvation (and it is in any case useless for that purpose); it was given to guide men in the life of godliness. And grace, while it condemns self-righteousness, establishes the law as a rule of conduct ... So far from giving us liberty to break the law, grace sets us free from the dominion of sin that we might keep the law. This is the final answer to antinomianism: grace establishes the law" (p100).

 

What struck me most in reading these key words from the Bible is that they are not New Testament words. Part of the function of the Old Testament was to train us in the vocabulary of the New. The lexical categories in which we express the glorious Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ are drawn from an old stock.