Monday, December 22, 2008

Another Stellar Analysis by Tim Keller

Ok, I admit it: I’m prepared to stand in front of group and say out loud, “Hello, my name is Michael and I’m a Tim Keller fan-boy.”

My latest excuse for imbibing? Check out this essay on the way the gospel should inform our thinking about the poor.

Here’s a taste (the article's conclusion):
“Proverbs tells us that God identifies with the poor. "If you do it to the poor, you do it to me." Matt 25 says the same thing. I showed above that this means that on judgment day God will be able to judge a person's heart attitude toward him by the person's heart-attitude toward the poor. It also means, however, something more profound.

In Proverbs and Matt 25, God identifies with the poor symbolically. But in the incarnation and death of Jesus, see God identifies with the poor and marginal literally. Jesus was born in a feeding trough. At his circumcision Jesus' family offered what was required of the poor (Luke 2:24). He said, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head" (Matt 8:20). At the end of his life, he rode into Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey, spent his last evening in a borrowed room, and when he died, he was laid in a borrowed tomb. They cast lots for his only possession, his robe, for there on the cross he was stripped of everything.

All this gives new meaning to the question: "Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or naked or in prison?" The answer is—on the cross, where he died amidst the thieves, among the marginalized. No wonder Paul could say that once you see Jesus becoming poor for us, you will never look at the poor the same way again.”

In my opinion, convicting, enlightening, profound. Like they say, read the whole thing.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

God's Nüvi

Lately in one-on-one meetings with some men from church, our attention has been drawn to the topic of wisdom and the book of Proverbs. After discussing a number of passages, one of the men asked a great question, “What exactly is wisdom?”

A quick survey of the references in Proverbs turns up quite a few descriptions (wisdom is valuable, does this or that) but no precise definition. So I began to meditate on it, and here’s what I came up with: wisdom is God’s Nüvi.

Many people reading this will immediately say, “Hunh?”, and rightly so. So, here’s a little explanation. I had heard radio advertising for GPS systems for automobiles—“Turn left! In 200 feet, turn right! Destination on right!”—but didn’t really appreciate them until the day I traveled with a friend who had one (incidentally, the same one who asked the question about the meaning of wisdom), and discovered what a great help it was. We used it not only to get to and from where were going, but also to find a Panera with its wireless connection, as well as places to stop and eat along the way. Did I say what a great help it was? So much so, I ended up purchasing one for myself for a vacation to Cincinnati to see the Creation Museum there. And guess what? It was a great help!

Anyway, these things work by a combination of technologies. First, the device has stored in it a database of roads and points of interest. Secondly, a built-in receiver picks up signals from satellites orbiting the earth and then computes the angles between itself and the satellites. Next, it compares where you are with the roads and all the places it has loaded in its memory and displays it on a map. (The one I bought, a Garmin Nuvi 200, has in addition to its map of the entire continental U.S. over 600 million points of interest. And this is one of the cheapest, entry-level models.) Finally, speech technology enables it to verbalize where you should turn.

By now you're surely asking what this has to do with Proverbs and wisdom. Well, what led me down this track was the realization that wisdom describes the moral order of God’s creation. Wisdom classifies interactions between God and his creation and describes those which are beneficial. Proverbs 1:3, for example, says that to receive wisdom is… “to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity”… (ESV). Wisdom is an internal attribute of God by which he acts for the ultimate good of himself and his creation, as in Proverbs 3:19, 20… “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens; by his knowledge the deeps broke open, and the clouds drop down the dew.” (ESV). Along this line, wisdom communicates what we should do according to God’s internal reasoning, as in Proverbs 4:11-13: “I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness. When you walk, your step will not be hampered, and if you run, you will not stumble. Keep hold of instruction; do not let go; guard her, for she is your life.” (ESV)

So here’s what I mean by saying wisdom is God’s Nüvi: Wisdom is like a GPS device that contains a database of moral positions within God’s created order and which is able to describe the proper relations within that order and the creatures who inhabit it. Want to know where you should go, what you should do that is in the best interest of you and the rest of creation? Get out your Bible and get wisdom, which is catalogued there.

After hearing me explain the concept, the friend who asked about wisdom and who had exposed to me the wonders of the earthly Nüvi, came up with his own definition for wisdom. "Wisdom is GPS", he said. “God’s Positioning System.”

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Super Commendable?

Continuing in the vein of “whatever is commendable” from my last post, I was finally able to listen to the mp3 of Tim Keller preaching on Luke 15 and the parable of the Prodigal Sons. I had gotten a taste of this message when I first heard Keller when he spoke here in Richmond back in 2006. Somewhere I and had read about about this message, but was only recently able to access it. (Thanks, Steve McCoy for the great work cataloging Keller resources!)

At the risk of overstating, this is simply one of the most profound messages I have ever listened to. It seems like I’ve heard more sermons on this parable in my lifetime than any other single topic, and each time I recall learning something new. This one, however, is off the charts new and helpful for me. Maybe I’ve led a sheltered life, but this is the first time I have heard someone focus on the contrast between the elder and younger brothers. What Keller does with it gets to the heart of the good news as well as anything I’ve heard or read.

I know I’m guilty of frequently saying this or that is a must read or listen, but I wish someone had given me a link to this message before now.

Whatever is Commendable

In Philippians 4:8 the Apostle Paul tells us
“Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (ESV)

Such is my main purpose for blogging: upon discovering that which is worth commending, writing with a mind to publicizing it helps me contemplate it more deeply. In addition, I imagine that through the marvel that is the internet, friends or others might benefit from my pointing them to things worthwhile by Paul’s criteria.

For that reason I’m adding to my blog roll, Enjoying Jesus, which just happens to be written by a longtime friend, Jamie Calabrese. I first met Jamie when I was director of our local pregnancy resource center and she came through the training program and eventually ended up serving on the board of directors. Last summer my wife, Carol, and I were blessed as we travelled down to the Billy Graham Training Center with Jamie and her husband, John, to hear John Piper speak. (I wrote about that here.) Recently, Jamie has acquired the blogging bug with wonderful result. Writing poignantly of everyday experience and how the gospel affects her thinking, her thoughts are uncomplicated yet frequently profound. For an example, check out Begging Earnestly where her thoughts on a friend’s fundraising plea challenged me to rethink the way I view similar requests from acquaintances.

See for yourself.

Monday, July 07, 2008

A Must Read Manifesto

Russell D. Moore, Dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has written a stunning commentary on the values and beliefs that drive the behavior of Southern Baptists, particularly with regard to their actual versus stated views on sexuality and abortion. My only quibble with the article is his targeting of Southern Baptists, when I believe he is in fact describing just about all evangelical Christians in America.

He observes that while we conservative evangelicals talk loudly about particular immoralities, our behavior is instead guided more by affections for material comfort and economic status than by genuine adherence to Biblical principles.

Here are some quotes out of context, but I hope they serve to get you to read the whole thing.

“A biblically literate Southern Baptist church will be able to see that the demonic beings do not mind shifting tactics from generation to generation; wherever people are unsuspecting as to their own weakness, they will strike. If Bathsheba will not take down a son of Adam, then Babylon can; if not hedonism, then Pharisaism will do. It is at this point that Southern Baptists are especially vulnerable, because we fail to see how the family chaos around us is directly related to our captivity to our appetites.”

“We have become the people that Jesus warned us about. Southern Baptists more and more want to distance ourselves from our blue-collar, economically impoverished roots, and more and more wish to be seen as affluent, suburban, and politically influential. But this comes with a cost.”

“The reason we have made peace with the sexual revolution is because we are captive to the love of money. Southern Baptist men and women want to live with the same standard of living as the culture around them, and, as the Spirit warns, we will grind our churches and our families to pieces to get there (James 4:1-4).”

“Why does the seemingly godly deacon in a conservative Southern Baptist church in north Georgia drive his pregnant teenage daughter to Atlanta under cover of darkness to obtain an abortion? Because, however he votes his "values," when crisis hits, he wants his daughter to have a "normal" life. He is "pro-life" with, as one feminist leader put it three exceptions: rape, incest, and my situation.”

Hat Tip: Kyle Newcomer via Consumed’s blogroll.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

This is your devotion time on Google

On Tuesday I linked to Owen Strachan's article on the relationship between internet use and critical thinking; he's now done a follow-up post concerning how our devotional life might be affected by the internet.

Check it out.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

What your brain looks like on Google

Now I have an excuse for not having posted lately. Owen Strachan, author of the website Consumed, has written about and linked to some thought-provoking articles concerning possible negative effects on thinking ability as a consequence of regular surfing of the internets. Owen worries that we are gradually becoming information "skimmers" and losing the ability to process lengthy texts and follow complex reasoning.

As a side note, I first learned about Owen at the Band of Bloggers forum at Together for the Gospel. Because his posts are always interesting, well written and gospel-flavored, I’m adding Consumed to my blogroll.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The CIA and Bible Interpretation

Some weeks ago I came across a humbling video over at Dan Phillips’ blog.

It stunningly demonstrates how a person can miss something in plain sight. Dan went on to apply the principle to pitfalls in Bible interpretation. Ever since, I have wondered about strategies to avoid missing what a particular passage of scripture is really about. I preach through books of the Bible passage by passage, and highly desire to communicate to my congregation the precise meaning and application of the text in view.

Well, along comes Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost with a link to a CIA publication, Psychology of Intelligence Analysis that I believe is helpful toward this end.

The helpful public servants over at the nation’s intelligence agency provide a number of helps to analytical thinking. The first few chapters describe the difficulties humans face in correctly interpreting data, while Chapter Four and onward provide methods for improving one’s ability to do good analysis.

Here are some examples:

Thinking Backwards: One technique for exploring new ground is thinking backwards. As an intellectual exercise, start with an assumption that some event you did not expect has actually occurred. Then, put yourself into the future, looking back to explain how this could have happened.

Crystal Ball: The crystal ball approach works in much the same way as thinking backwards. Imagine that a "perfect" intelligence source (such as a crystal ball) has told you a certain assumption is wrong. You must then develop a scenario to explain how this could be true.

Role playing: Role playing is commonly used to overcome constraints and inhibitions that limit the range of one's thinking. Playing a role changes "where you sit." It also gives one license to think and act differently. Simply trying to imagine how another leader or country will think and react, which analysts do frequently, is not role playing. One must actually act out the role and become, in a sense, the person whose role is assumed. It is only "living" the role that breaks an analyst's normal mental set and permits him or her to relate facts and ideas to each other in ways that differ from habitual patterns.

Devil's Advocate: A devil's advocate is someone who defends a minority point of view. He or she may not necessarily agree with that view, but may choose or be assigned to represent it as strenuously as possible. The goal is to expose conflicting interpretations and show how alternative assumptions and images make the world look different. It often requires time, energy, and commitment to see how the world looks from a different perspective

Decomposition: Breaking a problem down into its component parts. That is, indeed, the essence of analysis. Webster's Dictionary defines analysis as division of a complex whole into its parts or elements. The spirit of decision analysis is to divide and conquer: Decompose a complex problem into simpler problems, get one's thinking straight in these simpler problems, paste these analyses together with a logical glue

Externalization: Getting the decomposed problem out of one's head and down on paper or on a computer screen in some simplified form that shows the main variables, parameters, or elements of the problem and how they relate to each other. Writing down the multiplication problem, 46 times 78, is a very simple example of externalizing an analytical problem.

It's a long read, but fascinating in its own context for understanding the challenges faced by intelligence analysts. I'm looking forward to applying some of the techniques in the interest of becoming a more faithful preacher of God's word.

(Perhaps it is wise to note that I consider these methods only supplementary to careful, prayerful study into the contextual, grammatical, literary and historical understanding of the passage.)

Friday, May 02, 2008

Fun and thoughtful find

I don’t know if this counts under Joe Carter’s encouragement to link to material that others haven’t, because a quick look at Technorati reveals that it has become quite popular, but this evening I stumbled on to some of the best writing I have come across in the Christian blogosphere. Not only does Prodigal Jon write beautifully, but his posts are a delightful blend of humor and serious reflection. The site is called Stuff Christians Like and the post below, “Church names that sound like clothing stores” made me laugh out loud. This is #24 out of 197 he’s written so far.

My cousin goes to church at a place called "Warehouse 242." There's another church in his area that recently started called, "Elevation." Across town from my dad's church is a place simply called "The Summit." I'm not sure when it happened, but at some point we started naming our churches after stores that sell designer jeans. And I'm cool with that. I don't think you have to name something the "Back to the Bible Holiness Church" which is outside of Atlanta in case you want to attend. And more than that, it opens up some good conversations with people. Imagine you're at work on Monday and someone says, "What'd you do this weekend?" You can reply "I hung out at Elevation." Your friend will then say, "Is that the new salsa/techno/hip hop/Southern Cambodian traditional dance club? I've heard the girls in that place are ridiculous." At which point you can then say, "No, it's a church" and then proceed to share the entire gospel with him. OK, maybe you shouldn't do that, but at the bare minimum, saying you went to "Elevation" is going to at least keep the conversation rolling where if you said, "I went to 'God is Awesome, Praise Sweet Baby Jesus Cathedral' over the weekend," your friend is going to throw an imaginary smoke bomb and climb out of a window to get out of the conversation. So maybe interesting names are a good thing.

Here’s another great one, #159 The Pray if You Feel Led Prayer. This one hit especially close to home because it’s a regular part of our worship service. Check Jon out.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Finding what others aren't reading

Joe Carter points out that “linkers” (which describes mostly what I do on this blog) are valuable because they “provide the value-added services of sifting through dozens or even hundred of blog posts, news updates, and magazine articles and sharing the handful that are worthy of attention.” He then goes on to suggest ways linkers can increase the worth of what they do, one of which is to “Read outside the circle” and “find what other people aren’t reading.”

I think Joe’s points are well taken, and in the spirit of trying to be helpful, here’s information concerning material I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere else.

Previous to this week I had never heard of Norm Wakefield, or his ministry, Spirit of Elijah. A friend from church commented how much he had benefited from a series from Norm’s newsletter, titled Curse of the Standard Bearer.

I have to admit that at first I was thrown off by the series title, Curse of the Standard Bearer—it sounded like something from the more imaginative side of the charismatic movement. Not only that, but standard bearer sounds like such a positive concept—how could a curse be attached?

Following the link my friend sent me, I discovered, however, a fine series about what is more commonly called moralism, legalism or Pharisaism. None of those terms exactly describe, though, what Wakefield is getting at. His premise is that instead of relying on the grace of God to transform us, we let our identity be formed by the concept of being a “Standard Bearer”. The curse part of the title refers to the fallout created in our lives and the lives of our children.

To enrich your understanding of the all-too-human tendency to spurn grace for rule keeping, check out The Chariot. The five uppermost links on the page point to this series.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

T4G and Radical Brain Reorientation

Together for the Gospel was last week, but I still haven’t recovered. Not from jet-lag, travel, catching up with work or anything like that, but rather from brain detonation. The teaching was so powerful as to disallow normal thinking for some time to come.

Reflection on the conference is now everywhere on the Christian blogosphere. As Tim Challies helpfully suggests, check out what a Google Blogsearch reveals.

To save you some time wading through all the comments, however, allow me to recommend just one thing. Do yourself a huge favor and listen to R. C. Sproul’s message, The Curse Motif of the Atonement. Not one of the messages at the conference was anything less than stellar, but R. C.’s message was off the charts important, edifying, and transformative.

At the outset of his talk he notes that he has been reading and reflecting on the meaning of the cross for over 50 years without fully plumbing its depth of meaning. I think this talk represents a pinnacle of explanation and understanding from one our generation’s finest thinkers and explainers of theology. And not only is the content of the highest caliber, his delivery is as compelling as I've ever heard from him.

If listening to this doesn’t make you love Jesus more, check your pulse.

Monday, April 21, 2008

On the road to Together For The Gospel

This past week I attended one of the best conferences I’ve ever experienced, Together For The Gospel. The Lord willing, I will post on it when I get another free moment.

Driving from Richmond, VA to Louisville, KY you experience what seems like endless views of spectacular scenery. I especially enjoyed the mountain cuts between Beckley and Charleston, WV, having never traveled that stretch of highway before. A close second in appeal were beautiful agrarian vistas consisting of everything from small farms nestled in mountain hollows to expansive fields of bluegrass around Lexington and toward Louisville proper. (Note to self: next time bring camera. Build in time to stop and wonder.)

Present in all the scenery was the constant juxtaposition of God’s handiwork and man’s. Undulating roadbeds dissected massive and lofty mountains. Bridges vaulted tumbling waters at strategic intervals. Marvels of ingenuity and engineering were somehow set in the midst the created beauty of the natural landscape without too much damage to either.

All of this caused me to glory in our creation in God’s image and our reception of the mandate to have dominion over the earth. Created, we are creators. I stand in awe of the creativity of God and its reflection in men.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

So much web...

In a comment to my last post, Boyd Moore wrote, “So much little time....”

Somebody say Amen.

One of the purposes for this blog (as if the world needs another blog) is to help me focus on matters consistent with the apostle Paul's admonition in Philippians 4:8: Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (ESV)

One such commendable thing is from a series on C. J. Mahaney’s blog where he interviews Sinclair Ferguson. (Hat tip: Justin Childers)

In one exchange, C. J. Mahaney asks,
“So without in any way minimizing the doctrine of sin—because you opened by saying it’s only by seeing our sin we come to see the need and the wonder of grace—how can we effectively expose sin and yet ultimately unveil and apply grace?”

Sinclair Ferguson replies,
“At least for myself it’s returning to a principle with me: Make sure you have gone back to basics. Make sure that you think back from first principles.

Part of the first principles of the gospel are these categories, sin and grace. I think the thing that I am trying to get at here is the correlation between my ability to grasp the grace, grace of grace and my grasping the sin, sin of sin (what Ralph Venning calls the “exceeding sinfulness of sin”). The sin is mine and therefore natural for me to see. It’s grace that isn’t natural to me and therefore difficult to see. Therefore I am going to struggle to bring the sin I am so familiar with to the grace I am unfamiliar with. And therefore I need to find ways given to me in Scripture of discovering the graciousness of God.”

As they say, read the whole thing.

Saturday, March 29, 2008


Today I was rooting around Phil Johnson’s Bookmarks, a great resource for theological writings and came across this gem at

Dr. Barrick cites 3 John:9: "I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us" (NKJV).

Then he makes the following observations--

The Greek philoproteuo refers to love of being leader, dominant, preeminent, or first. Such an individual is self-absorbed, egocentric, and controlling--he loves to micromanage others. It is good to stop and examine oneself in this regard. Am I a Diotrephes? How do I come across to others? Do those with whom I serve in the church or with whom I work in my place of employment think of me as controlling? Through a grueling session of self-examination I asked the following questions about myself, in order to find out whether I sometimes behave like Diotrephes:

  • Do I dominate conversations? Do I make certain that at least my viewpoint is heard on every matter, even if others are not? Speaking out in every occasion could be a clue that I think pretty highly of my opinion and desire that others hear it--even if it means that others might not be given the opportunity to be heard. Do I especially bring attention to myself when a significant visitor has joined a meeting by asking questions of him/her and inserting myself into the conversation? If I do so, then I am a Diotrephes.
  • Do I dominate discussions at Bible studies? Do I help to promote myself as "the answer man" by making certain that I speak in every forum on every issue? If so, I am a Diotrephes.
  • Do I take over communicating with everyone else about an event? Do I take actions as though I am in charge of an event following a mere general announcement, just because I feel like someone needs to take charge, settle arrangements, and organize it "properly"? Such action might reveal that I think that no one else can do it the way I do and that no one else can really do it right. If so, I am a Diotrephes.

Here’s the link where you can read the whole thing: Am I a Diotrephes? Warning: conviction may follow. (Well it did for me. Maybe you’re not a Diotrephes.)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Reason for God

It has now been just one month since the Valentine's Day release of Tim Keller’s “The Reason for God”, and it is already #40 on Amazon’s list of most-sold books, and #6 in their Spirituality category—and this without an endorsement from Oprah. A Google search of the title this evening returns 202,000 results, with a blog search revealing 10,272 entries.

This demonstrates that the book hardly needs my help to publicize. On the off chance, however, that someone reads this obscure blog and hasn’t yet heard about it, or is on the fence about reading it, I want to say, “get thee to a bookstore.” In my opinion, this is one of the most significant books of our generation. Keller set out to produce something like C. S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity” for our age, with special consideration for the hip, skeptical New Yorker he regularly meets in Manhattan where his church is located. Though I’m in no position to fully understand that particular mindset, I think he has accomplished his goal and more.

In an interview in First Things, Keller tells of being hospitalized with thyroid cancer and having time to read all eight hundred pages of N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God. He remarks, "As I was reading it, I realized I was coming to greater certainty, and that when I closed the book, I said, at a time when it was very important to me to feel this way, I said, “He really really really did rise from the dead.” And I said, “Well, didn’t I believe that before?” Of course I believed it before—I defended it, and I think before I certainly would have died for that belief." Well, reading "The Reason for God" had that exact effect on me. I already believed, and passionately at that, but reading Keller's defense and explanation of the faith served to provide even more substance to my existing convictions.

Not only does he provide a lucid defense of the Christian faith, but in the Epilogue, titled, Where Do We Go From Here, he provides a winsome schematic by which the reader who has had his skepticism reduced can take actual steps toward becoming a Christian—something I don’t recall Lewis attempting.

If for some reason you need more prodding, or just don’t have time to read the book right this minute, an excellent summary can be found at Tony Stiff’s blog Sets ‘n’ Service. (Hat-tip: David Wayne the “Jolly Blogger”.) Don't stop there, though. Buy it and read it. I suspect you'll know more than one person you've been praying for to receive Christ who you'll want to give this book to.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Sign Which Is, and One Which Is Not

The further I get into The Religious Affections, the more it occurs to me that Jonathan Edwards must have personally known and been greatly concerned about individuals who claimed to be Christians but who gave him reason to doubt the genuineness of their conversion. My suspicions about this were first aroused by the sheer quantity of detail that Edwards puts into describing what are not in his opinion genuine marks of a true Christian experience. As I noted in my last post on the book, even when his section heading is titled “Showing What Are Distinguishing Signs of Truly Gracious and Holy Affections”, he repeatedly dwells on those which are not. When midway through the book he finally does dig into the positive signs of a genuine conversion, the shadow of false signs doesn’t depart. In fact, when he moves on to describing a second affirmative sign, he immediately brings up its doubtful counterpart. This second genuine trait that he points out, is that the true Christian possesses a powerful love for God, a love that,
“…is seen intuitively: the saint sees and feels plainly the union between his soul and God; it is so strong and lively that he cannot doubt of it.” (p. 164; The Religious Affections; The Banner of Truth Trust, 2004.)
Then, on the following page, he makes this observation:
“Many have been the mischiefs that have arisen from that false and delusive notion of the witness of the Spirit, that it is a kind of inward voice, suggestion, or declaration from God to man that he is beloved of Him, and pardoned, elected, or the like, sometimes with and sometimes without a text of Scripture; and many have been the false and vain (though very high) affections that have arisen from hence. And it is to be feared that multitudes of souls have been eternally undone by it.”
Perhaps it was a feature of Edward’s time that being a Christian was so normative, with so much pressure to be considered one, that non-believers not only claimed to believe, but also felt it necessary to testify to the internal reasoning for their assertion. I’m not sure where else Edwards would have gotten his material (and concern) apart from people he actually had contact with.

To be sure, some of this goes on today among church folk, but in most circles there is so little upside to being considered a Christian that not much need exists to make up something in order to be thought one. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

Religious Affections Entry #1
Religious Affections Entry #2
Religious Affections Entry #3
Religious Affections Entry #4
Religious Affections Entry #5
Religious Affections Entry #6

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Great Resource

Every time I visit Pure Church, the blog of Thabiti Anyabwile, I discover something thought provoking and encouraging. Not only are his personal writings exceptionally well thought out, his links to materials by others are stellar. One such example is this excerpt from Jerry Bridge’s book The Crisis of Caring. Great material on how we should approach the Christian life. If you aren’t familiar with Thabiti, you owe it to yourself to check him out.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

At last! Sure evidence of God's saving work in a person's life.

I was beginning to feel terrible about not having posted since Thanksgiving, until I realized that I have at least written more recently than the Blue Raja. And then I discovered that no less a personage than uberposter David Wayne, the JollyBlogger has also gotten bogged down when working through The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards. There now, having stood on the shoulders of two of my betters, I feel better. Well not really. It’s pretty sad seeking justification through comparisons with others.

Kvetching out of the way, I have finally reached the place in The Religious Affections where Edwards begins to describe those affections which are “truly gracious and holy.” Oddly, (to me at least) this unveiling of the book’s central premise doesn’t occur until the middle of the book, pg. 160 in the Banner of Truth paperback version I’m utilizing. And not only does this significant matter finally apppear in the middle of the book, it turns up in the middle of a section head. One never knows what to expect from those wild and crazy Puritan writers.

I will say, though, it is worth the work to get there, much like a view you achieve only when reaching a mountain peak after an arduous climb. In this case, the material that precedes supports the conclusions and makes the arguments all the more compelling. Edwards has gone to such great care to demonstrate what are not sure evidences of a genuine conversion, that when he moves into the positive territory of what are true marks of God’s presence in a believer’s life, you are well equipped to quickly grasp the differences.

He begins his treatment of these positive indications of God’s saving work in a person’s life with the observation that a truly regenerate believer has received the Holy Spirit into their life, and notes that the Bible describes this employing the separate metaphors of a seal and a deposit. With his typical incisive reasoning, Edwards demonstrates that these two metaphors are functionally equivalent in that they both depict the same phenomenon, the reception of the Holy Spirit of God by the believer. Here’s how Edwards puts it:

“When God sets his seal on a man’s heart by his Spirit, there is some holy stamp, some image impressed, and left upon the heart by the Spirit, as by the seal upon the wax. And this holy stamp, or impressed image, exhibiting clear evidence to the conscience, that the subject of it is the child of God, is the very thing which in Scripture is called the seal of the Spirit, and the witness or evidence of the Spirit. And this mark enstamped by the Spirit on God’s children, is his own image. That is the evidence by which they are known to be God’s children; they have the image of their Father stamped upon their hearts by the Spirit of adoption.” (pg. 160; The Religious Affections; The Banner of Truth Trust,2004.)
Thus, the person who has truly become a Christian will have present within them something of the very nature of God. This indwelling of the Spirit will reveal itself in ways that are exclusive of any other cause. He goes on to point out that because this deposit/seal of the Spirit is a conveyance of God’s own nature, it is therefore impossible to be counterfeited by either man or demon. In Edwards own words,

“This is truly an effect that is spiritual, supernatural, and divine. This is in itself of a holy nature, being a communication of the divine nature and beauty. That kind of influence of the Spirit which gives and leaves this stamp upon the heart, is such that no natural man can be the subject of anything of the like nature with it. This is the highest sort of witness of the Spirit which it is possible the soul should be the subject of: if there were any such thing as a witness of the Spirit by immediate suggestion or revelation, this would be vastly more noble and excellent, and much above it as the heaven is above the earth. This the devil cannot imitate.” (p. 161; The Religious Affections; The Banner of Truth Trust, 2004.)
Aside from the concern about how to determine who is a truly regenerate soul, this truth about the Holy Spirit transferring to the believer something of the creator’s divine essence is wonderful to contemplate on its own. To think that when I placed my faith in Jesus, the Spirit transmitted to me something of God’s own nature, is wonderfully comforting, humbling and encouraging. What an incredible thought—Christ in us, the hope of glory.

Religious Affections Entry #1
Religious Affections Entry #2
Religious Affections Entry #3
Religious Affections Entry #4
Religious Affections Entry #5