Tag Archives: Christianity

Thomas R. Schreiner on Value in Hebrews

“Why does it matter that Christ’s sacrifice is superior to Levitical sacrifices?​ The author emphasizes that Christ’s blood truly cleanses our guilt, and thus we can enter God’s presence boldly and confidently. As believers, we can be full of joy because our evil is cleansed forever. People today aren’t tempted to offer animal sacrifices, but they struggle mightily with guilt. They aren’t tempted to look to Levitical priests for salvation, but they find great comfort in knowing that Jesus is an exalted priest who intercedes for them at the right hand of God.” – See more in this interview.

When God Picks His Team

“Do you understand that God is not looking for ‘the cream of the crop?’” Jared Wilson asks. “He is in the margins, picking the scrubs, the losers, the dum-dums.”

Because in the Kingdom of God, the first, in our way of thinking, shall be last, but the last, as we see them, shall be first. God is not vindictive in saying this. There’s no mean spirit about him. He is simply telling us that we look at each other in ways he does not. Those we consider to be losers will not lose a thing in Christ.

Stirring Puritan Sympathies

Micah Mattix reviews a book that explores the passions and brotherly love of that group of people popularly slandered as being close-minded and stern.

Preaching on 1 Peter 3:8, Nicholas Byfield remarked, “The doctrine is cleer. That we ought to have a sympathie one towards another.” Robert Bolton urged his readers to “make conscience” their sympathy. Puritan sermons often aimed at stirring the holy affections of congregants, and Van Engen writes,

The imaginative work of sympathy, furthermore, constituted its own distinct practice. Puritan ministers instructed their parishioners to pray for others and provide physical aid, but before they acted, they had to be moved.

This helps explain why the Puritans, contrary to popular belief, were so expressive. When his wife was dying, John Winthrop was “weeping so bitterly,” Van Engen writes, “she asked him to stop” because (in her words) “you breake mine heart with your grievings.” When the Puritans fled England, and British soldiers separated children from their parents, William Bradford wrote that there was “weeping and crying on every side.” Anne Bradstreet regularly refers to her “troubled heart,” “sorrows,” “cares,” “fears,” and “joy” in her poetry. One of the most popular poems of the early colony was Michael Wigglesworth’s “The Day of Doom” (1662), in which he imagines the “weeping” and wailing of sinners but also the singing and “great joy” of God’s elect at Christ’s second coming. Van Engen writes that each instance of “tears and grieving, melting and weeping, pity and sympathy” in Puritan texts fits within “a broad tradition of Puritan fellow feeling.”

Author Abram C. Van Engen reveals these and other events in his book Sympathetic Puritans: Calvinist Fellow Feeling in Early New England. He touches on theological controversies and the witch trials, saying there are elements of Christian charity in all of Puritan life.

Speaking of early America, Mark David Hall criticizes a book on the religious mindset of the founding fathers. Were they a group of “pious, orthodox believers who sought to establish a Christian nation” or were they “Enlightenment deists who created a secular republic that strictly separated church and state”? Were they rational men who were strongly influenced by Christianity? Hall notes some good and bad points in Steven Green’s book Inventing a Christian America. (via Prufrock)

Hey Pilgrim

‘God Gives No Empty Titles’

Thomas Boston said, “God gives no empty titles, nor will empty titles answer the necessities of believers. As his name, so is his nature; the name truly expresses what he is. He manifests himself to be what the name bears. What he is called, he is found to be in the experience of saints.”

I quote Boston in a devotional on living in Jesus’ glorious name, which has been posted on Midwestern Seminary’s For the Church website.

A Season of Harvest from Ruth

A new devotional on the life of Ruth will be released tomorrow, one that I had the joy to work on. Kevin Foster, a Bible student and teacher who has been a missionary of one kind or another almost his entire life, wrote a remarkable book on the ideas, culture, and themes found in the book of Ruth. He calls it The Gospel According to Ruth and broke it into 121 devotionals with many quotations from the KJV and NKJV.

From Ruth 1:2, he drew this insight. “Elimelech placed a great burden upon his family fleeing Judah for Moab from the correction of God. The famine was not for the nation only, but also for the man himself. Famine is a calling card of God, calling the man to repentance.”

The book is worth sampling, and Kevin has given readers a large sheath of options  in both written and audio excerpts. The Gospel According to Ruth touches on ancient Hebrew feasts, harvest seasons, God’s blessing on Bethlehem, Christ’s foreshadowing in Boaz and other characters, and other enlightening points.

“Christ is our protector, our covering, and our shield. ‘He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler’ (Psalm 91:4 KJV).”

The Lord blessed me deeply by allowing me to edit this book and advise Kevin on getting it published. He has been a great man to work with. He has the kind of pastoral spirit you hope to see in every gospel minister.

Again, from the book:

In-Gods-Eyes

Undercurrents of Conflict in Nigeria

A hundred years ago, it seemed obvious that the whole region was naturally destined to be Muslim, and little attention needed to be paid to the uncivilized and illiterate animists of the south and east. History was clearly moving in an Islamic direction. By the end of the 20th century, though, growth, progress, and wealth were badges of the emerging Christian Nigeria, and aggressive evangelism even threatened to make inroads into the Islamic heartland. Muslims still dominated the government and especially the armed forces—another legacy of the British colonial preference for that faith. But how long could that political dominance continue?

Philip Jenkins reviews the book Boko Haram: Nigeria’s Islamist Insurgency by Virginia Comolli.

“In her introduction,” he writes, “Comolli makes the telling point that the social contract on which government is based is thoroughly broken in Nigeria. People give up certain rights to governments in exchange for protection and security, gifts that have been so obviously lacking for decades.”

While there are religious undercurrents throughout the country, Boko Haram is gaining both religious and civil ground in some ways, losing it in others. Nigeria hasn’t yet seen a civil war grounded in religious conflict, but much of the conflict it has seen has been helped along by spiritual hopes and fears.

On the Road to Abuja

Handling Ministry Failure

Pastor Joshua Wilson writes about losing a church plant. “I believe the Spirit prepared me for the church’s demise, and gave great comfort as this season in our lives came to an end. However, I was already plagued by a thought that would not be easy to erase: I had failed.

What do you do when, despite your best efforts, your ministry fails? “What happens when you put your hand to the plow,” he asks, “but the visible outcome of what you do is meager or nonexistent?”

Empty Pews

Evangelicalism in America

Ed Stetzer writes, “For Evangelicalism, the Sky Is Not Falling but the Ground Is Shifting.” It’s one in a series on Evangelicalism in America.

Stetzer says, “Recently, I interviewed Rodney Stark, one of the nation’s leading sociologists, and asked him about the state of Evangelicalism today. He was perfectly blunt. ‘I think the notion that they’re shrinking is stupid. And it’s fiddling with the data in quite malicious ways. I see no such evidence.'”

In his article, Carl Trueman explains, “Conservative Evangelicalism may be more robust in terms of recruitment than other Christian alternatives at this point but it looks singularly ill-equipped to face the challenges of the coming days. It simply lacks the identity and the resources that come with historic rootedness, a point which makes it perennially vulnerable to becoming simply American culture in a Christian idiom.”

91 New Theses Opposing Modern Heresy

Earlier this year, I was going over Martin Luther’s 95 theses, and it occurred to me that many of them apply to the teachings we call the prosperity gospel. The comparison isn’t exact, of course. Prosperity teachers may be popular, but they aren’t part of the majority church as were the teachers Luther opposed. And if you remember from reading Luther’s list, he gives the Pope all due respect, suggesting that he is being misrepresented, not that he is teaching heresy himself. We can’t say that for the preachers of the prosperity gospel.

Here’s my list, taken from and based on Luther’s original–and four theses short. You see today’s Wittenberg doors on the right. They’re bronze, so we’ll have to post new theses with sticky tack. You’ll also see that several of the theses here are Luther’s own statements, taken from this translation.

No doubt, the spirit of Luther will pull me out of bed tonight, knock me in the head, and rebuke me until daybreak for pulling this stunt. I hope it doesn’t offend you and bore only some of you. Hope you continue to have a good and holy All Saint’s Day.

91 New Theses for the Modern Church

  1. When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
  2. The word cannot be properly understood as referring to living your best life now, i.e. positive thinking, as taught by some preachers.
  3. Yet its meaning is not restricted to repentance in one’s heart; for such repentance is null unless it produces outward signs in various mortifications of the flesh.
  4. As long as hatred of sinful self abides (i.e. true inward repentance) the penalty of sin abides, viz., until we enter the kingdom of heaven.
  5. Preachers of “kingdom prosperity” have neither the will nor the power to remit the penalty of sin.
  6. They cannot remit guilt, but only ignore or excuse it because original sin and Christ’s atoning work are not in their view.
  7. God never remits guilt to anyone without, at the same time, making him humbly submissive to Christ.
  8. The promises of God apply only to followers of Christ Jesus, those who have been raised to life from a spiritual stillbirth.
  9. Mere fandom for a church or preacher does not qualify anyone to be particularly blessed by the Lord of Hosts.
  10. It is a wrongful act, due to ignorance, when mere fans of a church claim statements from the Word of God as particular promises for their personal lives.
  11. When preachers encourage their followers to claim particular promises, instead of repentance, surely it would seem that tares were sown among their congregations.
  12. Continue reading 91 New Theses Opposing Modern Heresy

Let Christ Pay Your Sin: Brideshead Revisited

“Praise the grace whose threats alarmed thee,

Roused thee from thy fatal ease.”

These words from the old Key/Wilcox hymn adequately summarize the theme of Brideshead Revisited. Perhaps they even spoil the plot a bit, but this isn’t a plot-driven story. It’s relationship-driven—maybe faith-driven. Waugh draws out the fatal ease of his characters so that we can see what God’s grace does to them in the end.

Madresfield House

(Madresfield Court, the home of the Lygon family, Worcestershire.)

The narrator, Charles Ryder, is in the British army when the book opens. His unit relocates to the Bridehead estate, which provokes the sad memories of the rest of the novel. They don’t seem sad at first. When Charles begins his studies at Oxford, he meets Sebastian Flyte, a very friendly young man whose eccentricities seem only to endear him to almost everyone near him, especially Charles, who falls in love with him. Sebastian, a year ahead of Charles, has collected a handful of homosexually inclined friends, the worst of whom is Anthony Blanche.

While Blanche is brazenly queer (I can’t recall that he described himself with that term, but I’m confident he would have approved of it), the others are not, and Ryder suggests to his readers that we are sufficiently worldly enough to understand these relationships without delving into them. Much later in the book, he describes a monk as being naïve to not see the nature of companionship Sebastian held with a young German loaf, but all of this is subtle, perhaps because homosexuality was against the law. (Here’s a remarkable article on the autobiographical nature of Waugh’s novel, which mentions high society’s attitude on sexual matters.)

What isn’t subtle is the Catholicism of Lady Marchmain, Sebastian’s mother. The entire Flyte/Brideshead family is at least nominally Catholic. Half the family hates it; the other half embraces it. Sebastian hates his mother apparently for her ardent faith. In fact, she seems to be a representation of the Catholic Church as a whole, certainly flawed but honest and devout. You might see each of the faithful Catholics of the Flyte family as different categories of the church: Lady Marchmain representing the institution, Brideshead, the elder brother, representing typical laity, and Cordelia, the younger sister, representing the missionary. Each of them is disliked to some degree. Cordelia gives us a reason on page 221 of my edition:

“[Lady Marchmain] was saintly, but she wasn’t a saint. No one could really hate a saint, could they? They can’t really hate God either. When they want to hate Him, and His saints they have to find something like themselves and pretend it’s God and hate that.”

So some of the characters distain God, regardless what they say of Him, and Waugh intends to show us how God responds. He shows us unmerited favor and lifelong mercy. Christ ignored the grief and insult of our sin, taking it to the cross for atonement once for all. Christ offers us grace, having paid for our hatred personally. Without Him, we live in sin. Waugh draws out a picture of this with one character (pg 287):

“Living with sin, with sin, by sin, for sin, every hour, every day, year in, year out. Waking up with sin in the morning, seeing the curtains drawn on sin, bathing it, dressing it, clipping diamonds to it, feeding it, showing it round, giving it a good time…”

Without Christ, we have our sin, no matter how we dress it up. If we do not let Him pay for it, we will. If we do not end our lives as holy (“no one is ever holy without suffering”), we will end them in torment, having succumbed to life’s fatal ease.

Can Anyone Return from Heaven?

Very Steep Cliffs in Heaven's Gate MountainsPhil Johnson has an article on the recent rash of supposedly eyewitness accounts of heaven. He says it’s nothing new:

Various survivors of near-death experiences have been publishing gnostic insights about the afterlife for at least two decades. Betty Eadie’s Embraced by the Light was number one on the New York Times Bestseller List exactly 20 years ago. The success of that book unleashed an onslaught of similar tales, nearly all of them with strong New Age and occult overtones. So psychics and new-agers have been making hay with stories like these for at least two decades.

Johnson points to an upcoming book by John MacArthur on heaven and these books. He argues that the Bible forbids the possibility that anyone can return from beyond the grave. “All the accounts of heaven in Scripture are visions, not journeys taken by dead people,” MacArthur writes. “And even visions of heaven are very, very rare in Scripture. You can count them all on one hand.” Moreover, the biblical accounts focus on God’s overwhelming glory, not all the fun junk we might do in heaven.

In his excellent book Gospel Deeps: Reveling in the Excellencies of Jesus, Jared Wilson touches on this in a paragraph near the end.

Can I tell you one of the problems with books like Heaven Is for Real? Aside from the obvious honesty issues, they very often demote Jesus to a Character in heaven like one of the costumed players at Disney World. He is Santa Claus, an attraction of some kind. Continue reading Can Anyone Return from Heaven?

Blue Like Jazz Movie

Donald Miller’s book, Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality has been praised by a variety of folks for years, and Steve Taylor has adapted it for the big screen. It opens this weekend, though not in my area. It may gain a wider release next weekend. World Magazine as a good review here. Tiffany Owens writes:

While the movie successfully explores themes of forgiveness, authenticity, and the question of God’s existence as it follows one man’s journey to find God, it struggles to offer a clear explanation of the gospel.

I’m sure Blue Like Jazz is funny, and it’s probably uncomfortable. Hopefully, it’s also rewarding. Here’s the trailer.

Donald Miller talks about the themes of the movie and the criticism he’ll probably get on his blog. He says, “I get it. Criticism is hard. And not only this, churches get criticized for stuff that happened hundreds of years ago. I’d venture to say most criticism is unfounded and ill-informed. It can also be spiteful and hateful. So, I don’t want to be lumped in with the haters.”

Thomas McKenzie does One Minutes Reviews (which usually aren’t one minute, but hey!) and he talks lightly about the movie. This puts a positive spin on it for me.

Review of Cruciform by Jimmy Davis



Jesus calls us to take up our cross daily, and in doing so, our lives will take the shape of His cross. Jimmy Davis describes such a life in his book, Cruciform: Living the Cross-Shaped Life, possibly the best under-the-radar, Christian Living book this year. He writes, “We are shaped by the cross into the shape of the cross,” and thus are transformed to fulfill roles of seeker, shepherd, sower and steward.

I will summarize these points.

  • As children of God, we seek his kingdom and his righteousness first (Matthew 6:33). We desire to act like him, to love and think like him. We look to Jesus as our example for living well.
  • “In relationship to other disciples,” Davis writes, “the servant is a shepherd, one who encourages brothers and sisters in Christ, who loves and labors with them” for the kingdom (Colossians 3:12-16). There are caveats with this point, but generally speaking we love and work with each other keeping the abundant life of Christ in mind.
  • To those who aren’t disciples, we sow the gospel through actions and conversation. We have compassion for the crowds, like Jesus does (Matthew 9:37), praying for them and serving them for the sake of His kingdom.
  • For everything in God’s creation, we are stewards on His behalf of all the resources God has given us: “body, time, talents/gifts, money, head/heart/hands, words, work, creation” (Matthew 24:45-51).

We do this due to a focus on Christ’s life, which is essentially cross-shaped, and out of the source of our spiritual strength, which is a cross-shaped spirit. Each of these roles intermingles with the community in which they serve, a give-and-take that makes Jesus’ disciples interdependent. Davis carries these concepts through the end of the book as he describes that cross-shaped source of our spiritual lives.

Each chapter opens with a well-written, personal example of that chapter’s theme, showing how he has learned and continues to learn the principles he has written here. Perhaps the most difficult of these principles is the overcoming of sin by faith, not by effort (Galatians 3:1-5), which is the reason Davis builds his book on it. His constant refrain throughout the book sings of the grace by which we were saved being the same grace through which we obey and are made holy. Even in the worst situations (the last chapter begins with one), our Heavenly Father’s grace gives us the strength to persevere.

I look forward to living perpetually in that grace. Sometimes I think I’ve learned that lesson, and then I discover I haven’t. I want to make space in my daily routine to hear the gospel, to dwell on the Father’s love, as Davis describes it, because that cross-shaped song is where the abundant life is.