Sunday, June 15, 2014

Edification & Growth In Right Knowledge

Reading. . . . Oh how I love it!  I have learned so much, been blessed, been enlightened by the light of Truth through reading, reading, reading . . . which includes constant communication with the Spirit of Truth, teaching. . . .

Currently, and for a while, I have been delving into the "age of the martyrs" period of the Church--the time of Diocletion, Constantine, Athanasius, the Arian heresy, the Donatists, Council of Nicea. . . .

Such great treasures are to be found in the local used book store in the theology/religion section--classics for mere dollars. . . . I lament the anti-intellectualism that grips the modern church where so many are wandering around in a semi-post-modern haze, content with their subjective feelings and ad-hoc interpretations of "spirit-led" trends. . . .

I find I have not become more aloof, cold or too much "in the head" as I have read and learned, but the opposite has happened.  I am more convicted, broken, humbled, compassionate and self-sacrificing then ever before, not because of my doing, but only as a continuing consequence of submission and growing in the knowledge of God and His ways.

Also, because my work (deliberately so) is such that I can set my body to task while leaving my mind mostly free . . . I listen to all kinds of recordings I've made throughout the day--around 6-8 hours worth daily including sermons, theological debates and expositions, and still can't get enough.  I have no problem imagining the joy of Heaven where we are ever looking at and wondering and worshiping the limitless glory of God. . . .

If you are not in a position to yourself to spend so much time and effort delving into matters of divinity, at least you can stay abreast and grow by regularly accessing those who do. . . .

Below are some snippets I selected from a a great site I stumbled across (veritas et lux) this morning while doing a bit of research, which has a great list reviewed new books, mostly on the subject of God and theology (theology: the study of the nature of God and religious belief)

God bless, God rules,
your brother, thomas


“Grant what thou commandest and command what thou doest grant.”  Augustine

God is not like a bully commanding a blind man to behold the Sistine Chapel for sadistic pleasure.  Rather, the picture of God comes closer to that of a compassionate optometrist who commands a blind patient to behold the Sistine Chapel before restoring his sight.  The impossible command serves the vital function of demonstrating who deserves all credit once the patient marvels at the painted ceiling with clear eyes.  
"No Creeds But Christ" . . . .   Carl Trueman also recognizes (and repudiates) this anti-confessional agenda and affirms the importance of creeds and confessions and seeks to develop a case for the creeds and confessions in his book, The Creedal Imperative.
Trueman’s primary objective is to convince readers that “creeds and confessions are thoroughly consistent with the belief that Scripture alone is the unique source of revelation and authority.”  He also adds, “I want to argue that creeds and confessions are, in fact, necessary for the well-being of the church, and that churches that claim not to have them place themselves at a permanent disadvantage when it comes to holding fast to that form of sound words …”
The Creedal Imperative is a welcome addition to the growing list of resources that is devoted to reviving the historic creeds of the Christian faith.   ---------------------------------------

How many times have you uttered the words, “God’s love is unconditional?”  Yet the term is strangely absent from Scripture.  One might argue that other terms are absent as well, like “Trinity” and “hypostatic union.”   Of course, the terms are missing but the truth of the Trinity and the hypostatic union are clearly taught.
So what does one make of the notion of God’s “unconditional love.”  David Powlison tackles this important subject in his book, God’s Love: Better Than Unconditional.  Here’s his proposal: “God’s love is much different and better than unconditional … God cares too much to be unconditional in his love.”
Powlison is not the only one who resists the notion of God’s unconditional love.  R.C. Sproul adds, “I can think of no more pernicious lie to destroy people’s souls than this, which some preachers are spreading around the world: God loves you unconditionally.  No, he does not.  If we do not meet the conditions that he established for us in creation, then God will send us to hell forever” (Truths We Confess, Vol. I, 216).
Powlison grounds his argument with four “unconditional truths.”
1. It is true that “conditional love” is a bad thing.
2. It is true that God’s love is patient.
3. It is true that true love is God’s gift.
4. It is true that God receives people just as they are.
The author admits that the phrase “unconditional” has a “noble theological lineage in describing the grace of God.”  But the term is fraught with difficulties.  He suggests four biblical improvements:
1. There are more biblical and vivid ways to capture each of the four truths just stated.  The Bible provides much richer descriptions of God’s love than “unconditional.”
2. It is clear that unmerited grace is not strictly unconditional.  While it is true that God’s love does not depend upon what you do, it very much depends on what Christ did for you.  In that sense, it is highly conditional.
3. God’s grace is something more than unconditional in that it is intended to change the people who receive it.
4. “Unconditional love” is filled with cultural assumptions.  Such a term implies the minimizing or even elimination of expectations on the one receiving the love.
Powlison urges readers to consider the notion of “contraconditional love.”  He continues, “God has blessed me because his Son fulfilled conditions I could never achieve.  Contrary to what I deserve, he loves me.  And now I can begin to change not because I can earn his love, but because I’ve already received it.”
I commend God’s Love: Better Than Unconditional to fellow pilgrims.  It contains the biblical answer to the questions in regards to the love of God.  Readers concerned with Powlison’s thesis will be quickly persuaded and encouraged to pursue God with greater obedience and passion – an overflow of the love received from the sovereign and loving God of the universe.   


D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones:
My advice to you is: Read Jonathan Edwards. Stop going to so many meetings; stop craving for the various forms of entertainment which are so popular in evangelical circles at the present time. Learn to stay at home. Learn to read again, and do not merely read the exciting stories of certain modern people. Go back to something solid and deep and real.
Are we losing the art of reading? Revivals have often started as the result of people reading volumes such as [Edwards' works.] So read this man. Decide to do so. Read his sermons; read his practical treatises, and then go on to the great discourses on theological subjects.

  What do people think about God?  Edwards provides clues as he suggests that some people struggle with what he calls “little thoughts of God.”  He continues, “The truth is, men have low thoughts of God, or else they would willingly ascribe sovereignty to him in this matter.”  The problem that Edwards addressed almost 300 years ago has become somewhat of an epidemic today.  Open theism, process theology, neo-orthodoxy (just to name a few) have captured the minds of many pastors and are polluting the streams that once flowed unhindered in the academy and the church.
““Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”” (Psalm 46:10, ESV)
Psalm 46:10 is the basis of Jonathan Edward’s spine tingling sermon, entitled The Sole Consideration, That God is God, Sufficient To Still All Objections To His Sovereignty.  Six thoughts form the basis for the sermon:
1. In that he is God, he is an absolutely and infinitely perfect being; and it is impossible that he should do amiss.
2. As he is God, he is so great, that he is infinitely above all comprehension; and therefore it is unreasonable in us to quarrel with his dispensations, because they are mysterious.  If he were a being that we could comprehend, he would not be God.
3. As he is God, all things are his own, and he hath a right to dispose of them according to his own pleasure.
4. In that he is God, he is worthy to be sovereign over all things.
5. In that he is God, he will be sovereign, and will act as such.
6. In that he is God, he is able to avenge himself on those who oppose his sovereignty.
In ascribing everything to God, Edwards is primarily concerned for us to exalt in him alone.  He closes with strong words of admonition: “Let us be exhorted to exalt God alone, and ascribe to him all the glory of redemption … But this doctrine should teach us to exalt God alone: as by trust and reliance, so by praise.  Let him that glorieth, glory in the Lord.”
God Glorified in Man’s Dependence is a Semi-Pelagian sledgehammer,  destroying every ounce of human pride and self-effort.  Edwards puts the axe to Arminian axioms that while well-intentioned rob God of the glory which is rightly his.  Each line of the sermon chips away at the human propensity to receive glory and take credit for what rightly belongs to God.  Edwards reminds us that everything we have is owing to God; that he is sovereign in the distribution of his grace.  Indeed, God is glorified in man’s dependence.

In 1994, Mark Noll dropped a land mine on the ecclesiastical world with his excellent work, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.  Noll argued persuasively that “the scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”  Noll’s conclusion appears to be in agreement with the thesis of Harry Blamires who said, “There is no longer a Christian mind.”  Carl Trueman picks up where Noll and Blamires left off with the publication of his little book, The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.
Trueman questions the functionality of the term “evangelical” which according to David Bebbington is marked by four characteristics:
  • A high regard for the Bible as the primary source of truth
  • A focus on the cross work of Christ
  • A belief in the necessity of personal conversion
  • A public display of the gospel
Trueman is rightly concerned that the doctrinal boundaries which define an evangelical are too broad.  He wisely states, “Ironically, the minimal doctrinal confessions of some evangelical institutions can exacerbate, rather than mitigate the problem of boundary drawing.”  Trueman continues, “A movement that cannot or will not  draw boundaries, or that allows the modern cultural fear of exclusion to set its theological agenda, is doomed to lose its doctrinal identity.”  Indeed, the propensity of evangelicals to be inclusive and draw blurry boundaries will in the final analysis, harm the evangelical mind.   Ignoring Trueman’s counsel will prove detrimental to evangelicalism as a movement.
The author identifies a trend in the evangelical world that is growing increasingly more tolerant with subjects such as universalism or homosexuality.  Some might agree that this broadens the appeal but this brazen compromise does not come without a steep price.  Truly, this is weak-kneed, spineless, and tepid.  And it bears no resemblance to the robust faith of the Puritans and Protestant Reformers.  This is not a “faith” to die for.  This is a “faith” that is marginalized and ineffective.Trueman argues that the net result of this theological compromise will come under “huge strain” in the days ahead.  The author posits, “The impact of this wider cultural shift on evangelical institutions and organizations will be dramatic.”  Simply put, Christ-followers who stand for the truth will not be tolerated.  Christ-followers who think Christianly (to borrow Schaeffer’s language) will be marginalized.  Christ-followers who refuse to compromise the truth will pay a heavy price in the marketplace of ideas.

The Forgotten Trinity: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by James White is a book that deserves to be read.  Sometimes a given book slips under the radar screen and fails to receive the credit it deserves.  Dr. White’s book falls in this category.  Christian readers are missing out if they have neglected this excellent work.
White reminds the reader that “an unwillingness to worship God as God is and has revealed himself lies behind every denial of the Trinity that appears down through history.”  Indeed, this doctrine as Shedd says, “is the foundation of theology.”  White does a masterful job at explaining this all-important doctrine.

Recognizing the glory of God is a matter of the mind.  As such, we must recognize the glory of God in at least seven specific areas.  First, we must recognize the glory of God in nature.  The Psalmist makes a mind-blowing discovery, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19:1, ESV).   Calvin depicts the creation of God as a theater of God’s glory.
We recognize God’s glory in the church.  Paul writes, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  Amen” (Eph. 3:20-21).
Additionally, we must recognize God’s glory in the gospel.  2 Thessalonians 2:14 says, “To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  The gospel message is a glorious message.  Therefore, we must recognize the glory of God in the gospel.
When we recognize the glory of God in the gospel, this leads us to recognize the glory of God in the Lord Jesus Christ.  The Scriptures proclaim that Christ is indeed glorious!  “He [Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his [God the Father's] nature, and he [Jesus] upholds the universe by the word of his power.  After making purification for sins, he [Jesus] sat down at the right hand of the Majesty [God the Father] on high” (Heb. 1:3, ESV).
We recognize the glory of God in the Word of God.  The Psalmist recognizes the glory of God in special revelation: “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;” (Psalm 19:7–8, ESV)
We recognize the glory of God in the works of God: “But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works” (Ps. 73:28, ESV).
And we recognize the glory of God in the salvation he grants his elect.  While many believers are quick to question the doctrine of election, Paul the apostle delights in this doctrine.  His recognition of the glory of God in salvation leads him to pen these words: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:3–6, ESV)
Many Americans fail to recognize the glory of God.  This is one reason the Democratic Convention omitted God from their original platform.  And while recognizing the glory of God is a crucial part of what it means to glorify him, mere recognition does not go far enough.  This would be something akin to recognizing a beautiful dinner that my wife made but walking callously past the dinner table to the television set to munch on a piece of beef jerky and watch a football game.  When one recognizes the glory of God but fails to rejoice in the glory of God, one fails to glorify God.  We must not only recognize the glory of God; we must rejoice in the glory of God!
While recognizing the glory of God is a matter of the mind, rejoicing in the glory of God is a matter of the affections.  Jonathan Edwards understood this reality which led him to the following argument: “God is glorified not only by His glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in.”  Psalm 119:74 says, “Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice, because I have hoped in your word.”  And Paul adds, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1–2, ESV)
But here is the mind-blowing reality.  John Piper says, “God’s passion for his own glory and his passion for my joy in him are not at odds … the exhibition of God’s glory and the deepest joy of human souls are one thing.”  Instead of being mutually exclusive, we find that God’s glory and the joy of the creature are one and the same!  Therefore, when we experience joy in the birth of a child, the accomplishment of a loved one, or simply stand amazed at a beautiful sunset, we should give thanks and glory to God and realize as Piper argues, that “the exhibition of God’s glory and the deepest joy of human souls are one thing.”

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