"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Communion with God

I was just getting caught up with Jared's posts as I do not get out here as often as I would like. I am reminded that I feel a little embarrassed posting along side the posts that flow from such a fertile mind. With that in mind I want to second the thoughts expressed by Jared in his post on "Reformed Catholicism". I have actually read some of the stuff on his list there some at the same time as Jared. It was a lot of fun discussing the Anti-Pelagian letters with my brother at 6am at Panera! A LOT OF FUN!
I want to also second his love of the book "Communion with God" by John Owen. It might be less than ideal but at the time I bought the book all I could find was the made easy to read version published by Banner of Truth. Even this dumbed down version for lay people like me is outstanding. Is there another book out there that takes up the task of describing what it means to have communion with each member of the Trinity? While Owen uses the whole Bible in this work a couple of things that come to mind that I really liked are;
  1. His use of the Song of Songs. Oh how we are in poverty today when it comes to this book. Yes I believe there is a lot of sex in it and I like that about it. But in a lot of modern stuff out there this book is all about fixing your marriage. Owen uses it as the love song it is from Christ to his church.
  2. I used this book in teaching on the Trinity in Sunday school at my church. I told them I was going to read a Puritan to them then read how Owen unpacks 1 jn 1:2. Everyone was surprised to hear such tenderness from a "Puritan".

This is an outstanding book and I will read the full version (Lord willing) before I die! I have heard this book recommend to those who have read the full version as a quick reference guide to the complete work.

1Jn 1:2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us--

Friday, July 24, 2009

In the United Kingdom

I, Jared, will be in the United Kingdom with the PCPC Choir for their mission trip from July 24-August 4. You can follow us and attend to our prayer requests at:

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Reformed Catholicism: Getting started

[I'm in the UK from July 24 until Aug 4, so I thought I would leave this long post I've been working on a while as my last post for a couple of weeks.]


From my Catholicism series, one may be able to tell I am partial towards the concept of a Reformation or Reformed Catholicism. There once was a site named "ReformedCatholicism.com" and one of the best features of the site was a post on “10 steps to becoming a Reformed Catholic” with some recommended reading. I was not fully on board with everything they wrote, and since the website seems to be in a permanent state of re-direction, I thought I might offer some perspective on my own preference for the concept and perspective of Reformed Catholicism, with some recommended reading.

How to read the History of Theology Christianly, Reformed and catholic:

Scripture always takes precidence in authority over those interpreting it. Reading History is reading Scripture with others that have gone before you. No one should believe something merely because Chysostom, or Augustine or Thomas Aquinas or John Calvin believed it. One should read the arguments and conclusions of these men on Scripture to evaluate their thought process, compare it with Scripture and other great thinkers and then humbly determine who makes the best case from all of Scripture (of which you should first be familiar with) and allow a writer to teach you the Scriptures at their feet. And yes, the appropriate posture for learning from teachers is in submission, at their feet. Not that everything you hear is accepted as Scripture is, but that one thinks their thoughts after them and holds them in high regard, rather than merely holding their thought up to the measure of your own or to merely confirm your own prejudged opinions. One must be in a position where one is willing to have one's mind changed in interaction with those who are probably wiser, more learned and more pious than oneself.

So read other great Christian writers throughout history. Not just Reformation history, or Puritan History or the history of your local church or Billy Graham, but of the rich 2000-year history of the church. Personally, I’d recommend immersing yourself in each era for a good deal of time to get a handle on it. Read multiple books from that era, don’t read a Reformation era book, then an early church book, but read 4 or 5 books from the Early church, then read 4 or 5 books from the Reformation. If you read a survey, don’t just read a one volume history of the church, but instead, follow something like this guide below with both surveys and primary source works:

The Early Church

Read a comprehensive history of a period like: Jaroslav Pelikan’s volume 1 of the Christian Tradition then skim Schaff’s volume 1 & 2 of Church History. Then, buy Schaff’s 38 volume ante- and post-Nicene fathers, Immerse yourself in the first 600 years of Christianity by reading:

1) the Apostolic Fathers, (Michael Holmes is a better translation than the Ante-Nicene Father’s translation)

2) Then some pre-Nicene fathers, like Irenaeus (Against Heresies, The Apostolic Preaching), Justin Martyr (Dialogue with Typho, others), Clement of Alexandria, and Cyprian. Familarize yourself with the heretics too, whether slight (Tertullian and Origen) or great (like Marcion, the Ebionites, Arius, Apollonarious, and the Montanists). Be able to hear “Marcion” and know what he taught and why it was wrong.

3) Then read the great Post-Nicene Fathers (Christology of the Later Fathers is a good start), especially the Greeks: Athanasius-On the Incarnation, The Cappadocians (Basil - On the Holy Spirit, Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory Nazanerius) Be able to read the Nicene Creed and see how one cannot be Arian and confess it.

4) Then read some of the Latins: Augustine (Confessions, Christian Doctrine, the Anti-Pelagian Writings), Ambrose (Sermons), maybe some Jerome

5) Optional, if you want to see the transition of early to medieval Christianity, read some selections of later early church figures such as the Latins: Gregory the Great, Leo the Great and the Greek: John of Damascus (On the Divine images).

Middle Ages

Then get into the Middle Ages. Read Pelikan’s Volume 2 on Eastern theology and 3 on medieval theology. (peruse volume 4 on Medieval Christianity by Schaff) First look to the East since Western Scholasticism was an attempt to catch up with the fact that Eastern Theology was more advanced and loyal to the Scriptures than the West. Look into selections of Maximus the Confessor and Cyril.

Then read Anselm’s “Why God Became Man.” One might also read selections of Thomas Aquinas (I recommend Nature and Grace for theology, the Penguin Selections for philosophical issues). Bernard of Clairvaux and Bonaventure would help. The work of Thomas a Kempis would help you get an idea of the best of devotional works, but when you get past 1300 AD, most theology in the West is in decline (by decline, I mean concerned with adiophra, fighting with kings, developing doctrines of merit and downright heresy rather than Christology, Theology Proper, etc).

Reformation of Church and Doctrine

Reformation: Read Diamond McCullough’s wonderful “The Reformation.” Pelikan’s volume 4, and the final 2 volumes of Schaff. Read Pelikan’s Obedient Rebels. Begin to recoil when people attack Luther’s lingering catholicism, rather, see it as a good thing. By now, you should have learned to love the 1500 years before Luther, and especially their love of Christology and composition of theology in relation to Christology. Luther's theology only makes sense in that context, not as a “new Christianity.”

Look for good biographies of the Reformers: Bainton’s “Here I Stand” on Luther, McGrath’s “Life of Calvin,” McCullough’s bio on Cramner, and Reformers in the Wings for lesser known Reformers.


The Confessions of the Reformation: Augsburg, Belgic, Hiedelberg Catechism, Westminster, Book of Concord, Canons of Dordt, The 39 Articles of the Church of England.

Luther’s Babylonian Captivity, Christian Liberty, Bondage of the Will

Calvin’s Institutes, (pay attention to how much Calvin interacts with the past and past fathers), Bondage and Liberation of the Will

Martin Bucer, Melancthon’s Loci, Bullinger, Cranmer’s prayers, English Reformers.


Make a visit to the Puritans. Read Ryken's book: "Worldy Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were." It is a country with many great resources, especially in personal devotion. Remember, Puritans might be Anglican, Presbyterian, Independent or Baptist. They might have a little too much separationism in them (proto-fundamentalism), but many of them have a wonderful piety and great writings. I am attempting to read deeper here, but make sure you don’t leave without taking with you:

John Owen (Communion with the Triune God, Death of Death)
Jonathan Edwards (Religious Affections, Freedom of the Will)

Modern Times

Finally, read about modern church history in Pelikan’s volume 5. Mourn a little, read Noll’s America’s God. Cry a little. Read, Iain Murray’s Revival and Revivalism. Dispair.

Read Schaff’s the Principle of Protestantism. Read Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism, Warfield, Nevin (The Mystical Presence, Reformed and Catholic), maybe even Hodge. Light a candle of hope for American Reformed theology. Read Barth’s Outline of the Dogmatics. Light a smaller candle of hope for European theology. Read Torrence’s Incarnation. Rejoice. Read Robert Raymond’s A New Theology of the Christian Faith. Rejoice. Read “Drinking with Calvin and Luther” Laugh a little.

Now, buy Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck’s 4 volume Reformed Dogmatics and begin reading them, appreciating that theology stands on the back of faithful believers who were probably more pious and intelligent than you and whom you must consider and read before dismissing in a flame of presentist elitism that thinks that since you live now, the present and yourself are the measures of correctness and relevance. Indeed, past writers are likely more relevent to our age than most of our living writers...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Parable of the Sower: Some Thoughts.

The parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-23)

Mat 13:18-23 "Hear then the parable of the sower:
[SOIL 1] When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path.
[SOIL 2] As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.
[SOIL 3] As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.
[SOIL 4] As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty."

1) Seeds on the Path

The seed never takes root. The seed touches the hearer, but is immediately taken away, forgotten. The hearer is apathetic. They sit under the preached Word and think about what's for lunch. WHY NO FRUIT?: “Never understood.” Never considered. Though details of life, finances, stories, their own self-interests are worthy of their thought and mental energies, the importance of the words of their Creator and God are things of indifference.

2) Seeds on the rocky ground

The person takes hold of the word “immediately” and with “joy.” This may be an emotional conversion. Emotion is not bad. This phrase of receiving with joy is used elsewhere positively. Yet here, it is not directed emotion. They have no root in them. Most commentators like to play on Christ being called “the root” and point out, Christ is not the root of this person's emotion or point out there is nothing but the emotion to sustain it. WHY NO FRUIT?: Hardship. Trial. The acceptance of the word was based on a false premise. It was excepted in emotion, therefore when the happy times are gone, so is the supposed faith. It is not rooted in truth, but shallow. This is a man of the moment.

3) Seeds among the thorns

This is one that hears, but this is no barren field. There exists something there already: thorns. WHY NO FRUIT: The plant is choked out. The interesting thing is the last soil was plagued by hardship, but this is plagued by “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches.” Not bad times, but good times. Not pain, but pleasure. What was there before survives, but what is planted latter loses out.

4) Seeds on good soil

This one hears, believes, and does care to actually listen, understand and consider the message, has no shallow merely emotional reaction, no previous growth of thorns that is not uprooted. This bears fruit, though not the same for every plant. Some 30, some 60, some 100.

Lesson for the disciples:

The seed will drop and different responses follow. The disciples have seen this when Jesus teaches. They have seen this when they were commissioned to teach on their own. The fact is now lodged in their minds. Now that they know this, they are to learn why.

Paul tells us that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. If one does not believe, the disciples would be tempted to doubt the message. Maybe something else will sell. Look at the big churches, Osteen, etc. maybe their message is better because they have larger responses. No. Non-reception is no indication of the truth of the message and the faithfulness of the disciples in preaching it.

The disciples were commissioned with a very specific job. Their job was to preach the message. Their job was not to make people believe. Their faithfulness and success was not based on the number of people that believed. Their success was determined on their faithfulness to scatter the seed, know and preach the message.

Martin Luther on the parable of the sower:
“Here we see why it is no wonder there are so few true Christians, for all the seed does not fall into good ground, but only the fourth and small part; and that they are not to be trusted who boast they are Christians and praise the teaching of the Gospel; ... All this is spoken for our instruction, that we may not go astray, since so many misuse the Gospel and few lay hold of it aright. True it is unpleasant to preach to those who treat the Gospel so shamefully and even oppose it...What business is it of mine that many do not esteem it? It must be that many are called but few are chosen. For the sake of the good ground that brings forth fruit with patience, the seed must also fall fruitless by the wayside, on the rock and among the thorns; ... For wherever the Gospel goes you will find Christians. "My word shall not return unto me void" (Is. 55:11).”

Did you read and understand that middle sentence? “What business is it of mine that many do not esteem it?” Luther knew his job. Not the response, but the message.

LESSON: Preach the Gospel, share the gospel, knowing that the response is not our job.

In explaining this, I am going to try and maintain two truths explained here in tension. So let me explain both before judging.

Lets also answer the difficult question: Which of the soils are saved?

A perspective from an article in a Christian periodical: “The Lord divides the responsiveness of people in four categories. One group rejects Christ and never comes to faith. A second group comes to faith and then later falls away from Christ. A third group comes to faith and maintains their Christian profession till the end, but have limited fruitfulness in their Christian life. And a fourth group maintains their Christian profession to the end and bring forth much mature fruit.”

Their conclusion: “The first group is lost, the last three soils are saved.”

The justification of saying this?

The last three soils "received" or believed in the narrative. If salvation is by faith, then those who believe are saved.

Then we must ask: is it Biblical to say one can believe in a sense and not be saved? Don't we believe in salvation by faith alone? If one can believe and not be saved, does one then argue for salvation by works?


Jas 2:19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe--and shudder!

Demons believe. Are they saved? Of course not.

James speaks of a dead faith and that “that faith will not save you.” The opposite of dead non-saving faith is living saving faith. Our theology and how we view the world requires us to have a category of false profession, of dead non-saving belief. Of a person that has something of a faith, but is not finally saved. James says, there is a type of faith that “will not save him.” It is not true saving faith. This is the faith of demons, and juxaposed to the faith of the saints.

How do you tell the difference between the faith of demons and the faith of the saints? What is the evidence?

Matt 12:33 "Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit."

This is the same thing James says. The distinguishing outer quality is the fruit. If there is fruit, it is saving faith. If there is no fruit, there is no saving faith. And this is what is difficult in saying, because then it sounds like works are required. Don't we believe in “faith alone”? That's something I have struggled with. Because we know Paul says it is not by works, but faith apart from works. I think it would help to remind ourselves of the pure free gracious offer of the gospel, and where works come in. A good way to think about salvation is by two different aspects:

Payment and Renewal
Purchase and Renovation
Justification and Sanctification.

The work of God in our lives is two fold. Some call it the duplex gratia. It is essential to distinguish these two, but not to separate them. One: God redeems us by the merits of Christ, no works of our own. Two: God changes us by the Spirit, causing us to do works consistent with New Life. The work God does in us is not payment. The payment is not dependent on our works. Justification is an event with no work from us. [The Catechism calls it an act of God Q33]. Sanctification is a process, done to us resulting in us doing good works. As Ephesians 2:10 says, “we are God's workmanship created for good works” - the Catechism calls this a work of God Q35].

Another way it has been described is that we are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone. For God NEVER Justifies a sinner, without also beginning the work of Sanctification. Paul says all who God justifies, He also glorifies, (Romans 8:30) and sanctification is not an option along that course, and sanctification bears fruit, evidencing the goodness of the tree.


Now follow me with another truth we must keep in tension. I will illustrate this with an example:
Let me give two models:

The First is called a Christian. That person is involved with other Christians. They even teach others true things about Christ and have a long time they profess to be a Christian. This persons profession is dealing in finances and eventually, with the cares of this world the person gives up their Christianity instead seeking money without really understanding that he can't have both. [Sounds like a Soil 3 person, caught up in the deceitfulness of riches, the soil that seems to have the most hope of accompanying Soil 4 in salvation]

The Second is called a Christian. That person does the same as the first, is involved with other Christians and is bold and teaches others about Christ. This person even seems a little over zealous. Then, when a troubling time comes, the person can't stand it and out loud, something the first person didn't really do, says “I never was a Christian.” [Sounds like a Soil 2 person, coming on tribulation]

Who was the first person I described? The person that looked like soil three, the one we hold out hope for, is Judas Iscariot. The second person, the one that looks like soil two, that we have little hope for? That's Peter.

The next parable in the text is of the wheat and tares. When good crop grows up with bad, servants ask if they should uproot the tares (the bad) out of the field of good (the wheat). The Master replies:

Mat 13:29 But he said, 'No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.

Tares and wheat look very similar. It is very hard to tell the difference. In identifying someone as good, they may be bad, and in identifying one as bad, they may be good. Our job is not to be the final judges of the genuineness of someone's faith. We are poor fruit inspectors.


The lesson of the parable is to spread the message indiscriminantly, not to be an expert on who is which soil. We may perceive someone looks like the other soil. Our job then is not to infallibly cast judgments on their eternal state, but work to bring them back. We are commanded to comfort or rebuke a brother in trial or sin, (personally, and as the church with church discipline) BECAUSE we don't know. If they were saved as soil 2 or 3, why bother? Also on the other side, if they can be certainly judged as lost as soil 2 or 3, why bother? This is the reason we place people under church discipline and even excommunicate them from the church, to let them know the seriousness of their situation, to give an opportunity for the Spirit to work and renew the Peters of the world to repentance, bringing them to a place of repentance.

Ultimately, the only One that can guarantee a good soil, a prepared place for the gospel is God by His Spirit. As William Cowper wrote ina hymn on the parable of the sower:

Father of mercies we have need
Of thy preparing grace;
Let the same hand that gives the seed,
Provide a fruitful place.

What is the difference between those that hear and those that don't?

1Co 4:7 For who makes you to differ? And what do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive?

The message, not the response is our job. The One that gives growth, that makes the one who hears to differ from those that do not, is God, not us.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Prayer of Confession

O Lord,
No day of my life has passed
that has not proved me guilty in Your sight,
Prayers have been uttered from a prayerless heart;
Praise has been often praiseless sound;
My best services are filthy rags.

Blessed Jesus, let me find a hiding place in Your appeasing wounds.
Though my sins rise to heaven Your merits soar above them;
Though unrighteousness weighs me down to hell,
Your righteousness exalts me to Your throne.
All things in me call for my rejection,
All things in You plead for my acceptance.
I appeal from the throne of perfect justice
to Your throne of boundless grace.

Grant me to hear Your voice assuring me;
that by Your stripes I am healed,
that You were bruised for my iniquities,
that You have been made sin for me
that I might be righteous in You,
that my grievous sins, my many sins,
are all forgiven,
buried in the ocean of Your concealing blood.
I am guilty, but pardoned,
lost, but saved,
wandering, but found,
sinning, but cleansed.
Give me perpetual broken-heartedness,

Keep me always clinging to Your cross,
Flood me every moment with descending grace,
Open to me the springs of divine knowledge,
sparkling like crystal,
flowing clear and unsullied
through my wilderness of life.

-A Prayer from Valley of Vision

Friday, July 17, 2009

Martin Luther on the Parable of the Sower

"True it is unpleasant to preach to those who treat the Gospel so shamefully and even oppose it...What business is it of mine that many do not esteem it? It must be that many are called but few are chosen. For the sake of the good ground that brings forth fruit with patience, the seed must also fall fruitless by the wayside, on the rock and among the thorns; inasmuch as we are assured that the Word of God does not go forth without bearing some fruit, but it always finds also good ground; as Christ says here, some seed of the sower falls also into good ground, and not only by the wayside, among the thorns and on stony ground. For wherever the Gospel goes you will find Christians. "My word shall not return unto me void" (Is. 55:11).”

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Whose Kingdom Shall Have No End...

Kim Riddlebarger talks through differences between a traditional amillenial view of eschatology and dispensational premillenialism. The interview of Kim Riddlebarger, a Reformed pastor, is with the host of the show Todd Wilkins, a Lutheran pastor, since traditional Lutheran and Reformed teachings on eschatology are essentially identical. These interviews are worth considering no matter where you fall to know the arguments on both sides and consider the texts that are brought up. Kim is fairly gracious, as a former dispensationalist, in an arena that can include some non-gracious language.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Those humble Anglicans

The "new logo" of the Church of England. I find it a little true to life after having a short conversation with an Anglican priest that called my Presbyterian church: "half-way between parachurch and an actual church" (By the way, this is a joke, I love my Anglican brothers!)

HT: Hardly The Last Word

Sunday, July 12, 2009

"I'm first a Christian, next a Catholic, then a Calvinist, fourth a Paedobaptist and fifth a Presbyterian. I cannot reverse this order."

-John Duncan. a Scottish minister

Friday, July 10, 2009

Happy 500th Birthday John Calvin!

This is the 500th Aniversary of the birth of John Calvin, the French/Swiss Reformer. Some can go overboard in hero-worship or villifying of Calvin. I was first introduced to Calvin as a villian in Restorationist and Baptist circles. "Calvinism" was as evil of a term as "pagan." Later, I actually read sections of the Institutes and found a different character. John Calvin certainly was neither a messianic being sent from above, nor a villianous demon from hell. Yet, he was a man with great devotion to Christ, His Church and the Word of God in Scripture.

Calvin is frequently misunderstood. I remember hearing that Calvin was a cold intellectual technician of predestinarianism. Then, I heard another college professor complain that Calvin's commentaries were not technical enough, but read more as devotionals. Chesterton once commented that if one person says a certain man is too fat and another too skinny, and one person says that certain man is too tall and another person says too short, one starts to doubt the people talking rather than trying to imagine a tall short fat skinny man.

There is a set of lectures, if one is interested, on how reading Calvin revealed a different picture than what is typically painted especially by foes. They are worth a listen if you are encountering Calvin and are interested in a different picture of the man:

"The Calvin I Never Knew" (itunes download)

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Bible: Explicit Content

Over the past three years, I have studied Scripture in a way that I only pretended to before. Such a project has yielded quite a few surprises. Prophecy does not work the way I thought it would. The narrative has a finer point, and a more singular theme, than I assumed. And the content is not as family friendly as expected.

It is a cliché today that if the Bible was made into a movie, it would at least be rated R. We say that mostly because of episodes of violence such as most of the book of Joshua. We may even mean hints of sexual immorality in characters like Judah and David. It is well known that some graphic episodes are recorded.

This is not what I am talking about. What I mean is the words of men, speaking on behalf of God, saying things that would get them an "explicit content" warning if they put it on a CD, or a “banned” status in a church library. Not that you have noticed these things, because the English translators tend to protect our tender ears. Three passages have stood out to me, that when I have studied them more closely have shocked me at their actual content, none of which comes across in modern English translations, like say, in the ESV or NIV.

The legitimate question arises: to what degree does a Christian have the right to shock with their language and in what way? What may be helpful is to see how the Bible does so, assuming of course that the Bible is not to be condemned for its language. The point is to see what the Bible does in its language as a pattern for our own limits of speech, not to look at “naughty” parts in the Bible for shock or “giggle” effect.

We'll start off tame.

First is a familiar verse.

Phillipians 3:8:

Php 3:8 ESV - "Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ."

THE IMAGE: The word translated as “rubbish” is much more specific. The word “σκύβαλον” or skubalon refers to, according to the NET note, “a vulgar term for fecal matter.” Wycliffe chose the word “turds” for his medieval English translation. A closer translation would be, (as privately explained by a Greek expert) a harsher term than crap, closer to “sh*t.” Martin Luther used an equivalent in his German translation of the Bible. (and Daniel Wallace concurs in a word study on σκύβαλον)

THE PURPOSE: Paul is using sh*t as an image of what is produced apart from Christ. It has no worth or value. It is considered to be as worthy of honor as feces. Paul does not use this image as a teenager might for the “naughty” or “giggle” factor, but to shock his audience that may be tempted to honor their works. He wants them to know their works are not just worth a little less, but worthless. As worthy as of a place in their trophy case as their excrement.


Isaiah 64:6 ESV - We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

THE IMAGE: The word translated “polluted garment” or in other versions “filthy rags” also is much more specific. The NET, again, is more literal: “all our so-called righteous acts are like a menstrual rag in your sight.” BDB confirms the word translated “filthy” is purposefully mistranslated, instead means “menstrual.” The image is one of a soiled rag used during female menstration. In our modern speech, it would be more understood as “a used tampon.”

THE PURPOSE: Paul learns his explicit language from Isaiah who is using his language in the same way. Isaiah is comparing the best, the “righteousness acts,” of the people of God to something that is valueless. They have the market value of “used tampons.” Not a positive value, but a negative value. Isaiah uses this imagery to shock Israel into a re-evaluation of their own goodness.


Eze 23:19-20 ESV - Yet she increased her whoring, remembering the days of her youth, when she played the whore in the land of Egypt and lusted after her paramours there, whose members were like those of donkeys, and whose issue was like that of horses.

THE IMAGE: The ESV extremely sanitizes the image of Ez 23:20 to the point that the translation no longer communicates the message. The translators of the ESV might as well have left the verse in the original Hebrew. Multiple words are archaicly translated or mistranslated to hide the meaning. “paramours” are concubines, prostitutes or as the ESV translates it in other places: whores. “Members” is the word that can be translated "flesh" or here meaning “penis.” And the word “issue” is so opaque as to hide the true definition: “semen discharge.” One can see why the ESV (and most other modern) translators wished to keep it vague. If your child had a book that read, “she lusted after whores, whose penises were like those of donkeys, and whose semen discharge was like that of horses” you probably would freak out a little.

THE PURPOSE: Ezekiel is a strange book to me. Revelation has nothing on it in my mind. This is one image I truly read and wonder what was the purpose. It seems nearly to be shock for the sake of shock. Yet the image does have a striking and powerful point. The point is that Israel had committed idolatry, and an image so disgusting had to be painted in order to show just how offended God was by their behavior. This was not a small matter, a small offense, something God was just supposed to shrug off. The image is of an act of adultery so shocking and vial as to make one completely sure that it was unforgiveable. The grace of God is only shocking, and loved and something to shead tears over in pursuing, and obtaining, when the weight of our own sin is personally felt, disgusting to us, and mourned.


In seeing three examples (and there are more in that barely-cracked OT section of your Bible), we see Paul, Isaiah, and Ezekiel using images that are hard to read, and definitely not comforting. They were not meant to be. Which pushes us to a few natural questions:

1)Why do translators protect us from Isaiah, Ezekiel and Paul's offensive language?

Is it to sanitize the Bible so as to make it “family friendly” or to purposeful hide the message? The former is almost certainly so. Modern translators are not conspiring to hide God's truth. They probably wish not to be offense to the reader. But sanitizing the Bible also has another effect. In the American church, sin is not mourned, and when it is, it is rather hated in easily identifyable and foreign terms. It is identified as the acts of those outside the church (read: homosexuality, drug use, etc.) and not as Paul, Isaiah and Ezekiel identify it: as acts of those in the church. The church could use some shocking language of their own sin.

2)To what degree should such explicit language be used by Christians communicating the kerygma?

This is a harder question. Perhaps the most famous of “shock quotes” comes from Tony Campolo who said in a few speeches:

"I have three things I'd like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don't give a sh*t. What's worse is that you're more upset with the fact that I said 'sh*t' than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.”

One of my favorite artists, Derek Webb, used a similar line (“give a sh*t”) in a new song of his. The question is: are Derek Webb and Tony Campolo being like Paul, Isaiah and Ezekiel?

Not exactly. I think the use is more crude with Campolo. Paul uses the word with a direct comparison. Skubala = what you value that came before Christ. For Campolo, the word is merely an explative. Phrases such as “give a sh*t” or “what the f*&$” are merely vulgar without a shocking comparison. The words do not fill in or compare to something that we are offended are being compared to it. The purpose is shock for the sake of shock and showing a comparison of your shock at one offense at another. It is comparing two sins, my vulgarity and your apathy, rather than comparing your sin to something. Perhaps a good rhetorical device, but not exactly on the level of Paul or Isaiah. I don't necessarily condemn it though, as a use in art (Webb's new song) or as a speech to a certain audience (Campolo). However it is a different question than:

Should a preacher use such language? Here, I think my answer must be yes/no. The Campolo use (shock for the sake of shock) is not the job of a preacher. Paul did not say “you don't give a sh*t about the gospel!” or “what the f*%k are you Galatians doing abandoning the gospel?!” Rather, Paul used the word to shock his readers in a comparison of values. What you value is worthless. Worse than worthless, it is feces. So too, with Isaiah. Ezekiel uses his image to show not that he can shock with language, but how shocking the sin of the people of God is, as shocking as an explicit image of adultery. When used this way, when following the text, the preacher should use explicit language to expose the hidden idolatry and shocking sin of his congregation. The Bible does so and the Bible is the text of the preacher's proclamation.

The lesson from looking at this text is not to be shocking for its own sake, at least in the pulpit. Rather, it is to be selectively shocking. The preacher must be careful not to desensitize the audience to explicit and shocking images, but to indeed expound them when presented in Scripture to the end that Scripture demands. Scripture demands we be shocked about our idolatry, sin and misguided affections. Scripture does not merely give us warrant to be shocking from the pulpit for the shear effect. So while I like Derek Webb's music, and he is free to do things in his music a preacher would not do, I would not quote it in the pulpit. Now Isaiah is an entirely different matter...

Derek Webb's new album...

...should be coming out soon. A bit of the feel of the album is here below. I love the title: Stockholm Syndrome. This is "a psychological response sometimes seen in abducted hostages, in which the hostage shows signs of loyalty to the hostage-taker, regardless of the danger or risk in which they have been placed."
[UPDATE: Check out my take on Webb's use of explicit language here]

Sounds like what happen to us with Sin to me.

The Spirit vs. Kickdrum
(click here for an mp3 of an early mix)

I don’t want the spirit; I want the kickdrum
I don’t want the spirit; I want the kickdrum
I know how it works, so I’m not dumb
I don’t want the spirit; I want the kickdrum

Like sex without love
Like peace without the dove
Like a crime scene without the blood
I don’t want the spirit; you know I want a kickdrum

I don’t want the son; I want a jury of peers
I don’t want the son; I want a jury of peers
Stares go low when you see my tears
I don’t want the son; I want a jury of peers

Like lies without the truth
Like wine without the food
Like a skydive without the chute
I don’t want the son; you know I want a jury of peers
I don’t want the spirit; you know I want a kickdrum

I don’t want the father; want a vending machine
I don’t want the father; want a vending machine
I know, what’s your point if you know what I mean
I don’t want the father; want a vending machine

Like heaven without gates
Like hell without flames
Like life without pain
I don’t want the father; you know I want a vending machine
I don’t want the son; you know I want a jury of peers
I don’t want the spirit; you know I want a kickdrum

Monday, July 06, 2009

Pilgrim's Progress: Who beats up Faith?

[A Selection from Pilgrim's Progress]

Now when I had got about halfway up, I looked behind me, and saw one coming after me, swift as the wind; so he overtook me just about the place where the Settle stands.

Chr. Just there, said Christian, did I sit down to rest me; but being overcome with sleep, I there lost this Roll out of my bosom.

Faith. But good Brother hear me out. So soon as the man overtook me, he was but a word and a blow, for down he knocked me, and laid me for dead. But when I was a little come to myself again, I asked him wherefore he served me so? He said, Because of my secret inclining to Adam the First: and with that he struck me another deadly blow on the breast, and beat me down backward, so I lay at his foot as dead as before. So when I came to myself again I cried him mercy; but he said, I know not how to shew mercy; and with that knocked me down again. He had doubtless made an end of me, but that one came by, and bid him forbear?

Chr. Who was that that bid him forbear?

Faith. I did not know him at first, but as he went by, I perceived the holes in his hands and in his side; then I concluded that he was our Lord. So I went up the Hill.

Chr. That man that overtook you was Moses: He spareth none, neither knoweth he how to shew mercy to those that transgress his Law.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Calling the Sabbath a Delight

שׁבת - shâbath / BDB Definition: to cease, desist, rest

A Challenge (largely to myself) to remember the Sabbath:

What our priority on the Lord's Day? Its not whether you have a long list of fun stuff you are sure not to do that day, but what takes priority? Does worship become sacrificed to leisure on the Sabbath? Does private worship become sacrificed to entertainment? Do we fill a whole day with recreation, watch 3 hours of television, go for a 2 hour walk, go shopping for 3 hours and get home and say: “well, I don't have time tonight for prayer, Scripture, or learning more about God through a teacher.” Why don't you have time? Is it because Sunday is the same as Saturday in all but a couple hours in the morning? If we find ourselves with no time to read Scripture for more than a few minutes during the week, or a book on the gospel or on Christ, or memorizing the Catechism, or praying for more than a few minutes, then you have a whole day dedicated to doing so. Is there even an hour set aside for private worship? Or is it the same as every other day? The problem with our observance of the Sabbath is that the Sabbath looks like every other day, busy with the unimportant things, and lax with the ultimate concerns. We are the busiest generation of American, and the most in need of resting in Christ.

"If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."

- Isaiah 58:13-14

You, O Lord, stir man to take pleasure in praising You, because You have made us for Yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.” (Chapter 1)…I enjoyed much in [secular] books…But in the books of philosophers no one hears Him who calls “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Chapter 7)

-Augustine of Hippo. The Confessions.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Meditation: Rev 21:5

My friend Jay has posted his sermons before, so I will take his lead that doing so is not bad form. I was asked on somewhat short notice to give this meditation, and I wan't able to work on it as long as I'd like. So here is the somewhat hurried text from my first ecclessial sermon/meditation. It is not what I think may be a typical sermon for me. It is not DTS-approved, for it does not have 3 points and a conclusion. It is not puritan-like, for I did not hone down a propositional truth to expound. It was just a mediation on the text and answering two simple questions:

1) Why is Revelation 21:5 worth memorizing?
2) How does it invite us to the table?


Today, we are continuing our series: “Texts you should memorize,” with one from a book you may not have many verses memorized from, and so perhaps, you are not as familiar with. Revelation 21:5.

Rev 21:5 And He who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all
things new."
So often, by the text of Scripture itself, by other Christians and by our own encounter with nature, we are prompted to look on nature and praise the workmanship of God. We see the complexity of ecosystems working together in nature, and we marvel at the harmony of Creation. We see the vastness of Space and galaxies thousands of light-years away through Hubble telescope, and are baffled at the vastness of Creation. We see micro-organisms and are blown away by the micro-world that thrives around us unseen.

Yet, almost as if to jolt us down from our cloud, nature shocks us with its horror. A friend of mine just last week sat next to the bed of his godly sister in her 30s, as she constantly felt the pain in her body of an aggressive form of cancer. 10 years ago, to the day she was diagnosed, my friend's father had died from the same form of cancer. Last week, he also lost his sister, as genetics and nature destroyed her body, and she passed away. In moments like that, we do not look at the harmony, or wonder of Creation and marvel. No, we look at how the world functions and instead of praise, we cry out at the pain and disappointment of creation, of a world that is not as it ought to be.

We have sympathy in those secret times, that we believe we are not supposed to have, with another man who died young, in his 20s. Stephen Crane penned a short poem we had to study in high school. It reads:

A man said to the universe:
"Sir I exist!"
"However," replied the universe,
"That fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation”

A wonder at the universe can quickly turn to the recognition of a harsh coldness present in it.

We don't think we should have such feeling. But such feelings are not unChristian. It is a recognition of the reality of this world. Though creation can instill a sense of wonder, it can also produce unease, anger, and pain, and fear as we understand that something is deeply wrong with this world. This is a fact not lost to the same Scriptures that laud the workmanship of nature. Paul writes “the whole creation has been groaning together in pain.” And we know, too, from Scripture that our own sin did this to creation, but we long to be out from under it. We long to be free of this decay.

So why this verse from Revelation 21? We need this verse close to our hearts because of the world we now live in. Here, we are told in verse 4 of another time, when,

Rev 21:4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no
more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the
former things have passed away."

These words do not come cheaply, but from Christ, Who Himself knows tears, for he wept, Who knows mourning for he mourned for those who died and for their souls, and Who knows pain from the small pains of hunger, to the greater pains of injury and death.

In verse 5 we are told, The one who has the power to create this world, has the power to do an even greater work. He has the power to re-create this world. John saw “a new heaven and a new earth.” And it was not the same as the current creation. It was not a world plagued with the realities of this world, of mourning, or pain or death. It is a new world in which the crooked things are straightened. Where deformities are healed. A new world where we no longer inflict sin and pain on others, and where sin and pain is not inflicted on us. Where cancer and no evil design can enter to disturb the enjoyment of God by His people.

This is the world where Christ Himself declares in four simple words in the original Greek:
1) Behold or Look, gaze upon this, keep this in front of you.
2) I am making, in the present. This is my current project.
3) All things – the whole of creation, you and all things.
4) New – begun again, not as they were before.

Though we may have reservations with some particulars of it, many of us saw a few years ago, the movie “The Passion.” The director made an interesting choice in including these words from Revelation 21:5 in the story of the death and resurrection of Christ. Christ tells his mother as He goes to the cross: “Behold, I am making all things new.”

It was an appropriate choice to include these words here, for the work of new creation was begun with the resurrection of Christ, with His resurrection, new creation body. The Heidelberg Catechism states His resurrection is a pledge and surety that we will receive resurrected bodies. [Q45 & Q49] The payment for sin is complete, yet the work of new creation is just begun. Paul, after telling us creation groans under the weight of sin, tells us in Romans 8:23:

Rom 8:23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits
of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the
redemption of our bodies.
To we who are in this world, and find ourselves groaning inwardly, Christ invites us to the table. Scripture calls the Supper a “communion” or “partaking” with Christ's flesh and blood. This is Christ inviting believers, His people, to the table to receive again the pledge of new creation. In coming, we commune with Him, and he assures our souls that indeed, what He has started in us, He is faithful to complete. That the tears and pain, that man has inflicted on himself, will not be healed by man, but by Christ, by the God-man, the sure pledge of the redemption of our redeemed bodies by the Renewer of all things.

Christ in the end declares “Behold, I am making all things new.” Today, we trust in the truth of our Redeemer's word, that He indeed will make all things new. Come, and feast on Christ's sure word, made visible in the Supper: that He is making all things new. Amen.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Revelation 21:5a

REVELATION 21:5a - And He who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new."

I'm giving the mediation at Vespers tonight on this verse. Say a prayer for my first ecclesial sermon.