Did Jesus and Paul Preach the Same Gospel?

This question has been on the minds of many evangelicals in recent years. In considering the question, I found this passage from Michael Horton’s new book, The Gospel Commission, very helpful and insightful:

Pitting Jesus (and the kingdom motif) against Paul (and the emphasis on personal salvation) used to be a hobby of liberal Protestants. Alfred Loissy, a liberal Roman Catholic writer, once quipped that Jesus announced a kingdom, but instead it was a church that came. So on one side is Jesus, with his invitation to humanity to participate in his kingdom by bringing peace and justice, and on the other side is Paul who spoke instead of the church and personal salvation by belonging to it…

Besides revealing a seriously deficient view of Scripture, this contrast between Jesus and Paul rests on a misunderstanding of our Lord’s teaching concerning the kingdom. Jesus’s proclamation of the kingdom is identical to Paul’s proclamation of the gospel of justification. Contracting the kingdom with the church is another way of saying that the main point of Jesus’s commission consists of our social action rather than in the public ministry of the Word and sacrament. In other words, it’s another way of saying that we are building the kingdom rather than receiving it; that the kingdom of God’s redeeming grace is actually a kingdom of our redeeming works.

Jesus’s message of the kingdom as the forgiveness of sins and the dawning of the new creation was inseparable from his promise to build his church and to give his apostles the keys of the kingdom through the ministry of preaching, sacrament, and discipline. This motif of the kingdom was hardly lost in the apostolic era. It was this gospel of the kingdom that Peter and the other apostles proclaimed immediately after Jesus’s ascension (Acts 2:14-36; 3:12-16; 17:2-3). And this aws also the heart of Paul’s message (1 Cor. 15:3-4).

If the preaching of the gospel, no less than the miracles, is the sign that the kingdom has come, Paul’s message and ministry can only serve as confirmation of the kingdom’s arrival.

Michael Horton, The Gospel Commission: Recovering God’s Strategy for Making Disciples, pp. 75-76

Do You Journal?

I’m not talking about a manly version of keeping a diary (although if you keep a diary, that’s cool…), I’m talking about journaling what God is teaching you through your regular Scripture reading.

Do you journal?

For years, I’ve done it and it’s been very worthwhile, particularly from the standpoint of looking back and seeing what God’s been teaching you over the years. My friend Adam and I were talking about this last night over bison burgers and I’d mentioned that it’s very humbling to look back on things you wrote 3, 4 or 5 years ago that you thought were really insightful and intelligent and think, “Man, I was an idiot!”

Maybe that’s just me, though.

And even though I’ve always really enjoyed journaling, it’s fallen by the wayside in recent weeks. I always have things to ponder from my reading (some of which ends up becoming posts like these), but I’m not always writing it down.

This is probably a trend I should reverse.

So do you journal? If so, how do you keep yourself on track with doing it?

Book Review: Mere Churchianity by Michael Spencer

There are some books you really look forward to reviewing and others you approach with trepidation. Mere Churchianity is the latter. The reason has less to do with the content and more with the fact that the book’s author, Michael Spencer—better known around the interwebs as the Internet Monk—passed away in April, 2010. So now, there’s no opportunity to interact with him over it. And reading the book left me wanting to sit and hang out with him and just talk about it. Here’s why:

American Christianity, in Spencer’s mind, has succumbed to a false religion: churchianity. Instead of being people who are transformed by Jesus, shaped to be like Him, we’ve settled for playing church. We’ve replaced relationship with religion.

And this has forced him to ask, “When millions of people walk away from the church that has a sign out front saying Jesus is inside, what are they walking away from?” (p. 21). Are they walking away from God or from empty religion? Are they abandoning Jesus, or are they “walking away from a church that has become disconnected from Jesus and all he stands for?”

Perhaps the leavers and quitters are sending a message about Jesus that Christians need to take to heart. Perhaps churchianity has done more to alienate people from Christianity than all the best-selling books written by angry atheists. It is clear that the church has overadvertised something it has lost, and it’s time to answer some questions about the Jesus who doesn’t live behind the church signs. (p. 21)

The big idea behind Mere Churchianity is provocative—yet not. It’s provocative in the sense that it’s a very bold statement about the way things are in the church in North America. Yet, the claim itself has been made by so many (usually in a way that lacks charity and humility) that it’s become very easy to ignore. How did I respond? My reaction was… mixed. [Read more...]

Give Your Amen to Jesus

There is an unfortunate tendency when it comes to interpreting John 3:16. John says, “whoever believes in him” will not perish. Some people think that “believing in” Jesus means nothing more than giving assent. They hang their hopes for heaven on this slender reed: “Sure, I believe in Jesus.” They mean that they believe that He exists and agree with at least some of what the Bible says about Him. But the biblical teaching about Jesus means practically nothing to them. They “believe in” Jesus in much the same way a child “believes in” Santa Claus. It is the particular legend or story with which they were brought up.

But John means much more than this when he writes that whoever “believes in” Jesus Christ will not perish. In his outstanding study of John’s Gospel, C. H. Dodd points out that this Greek construction translates a common Hebrew phrase in the Old Testament that employs a form of amen, a word that signifies something that is firmly held or established. Isaiah used it in his famous statement to King Ahaz: “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all” (Isa. 7:9b). Therefore, when John says “whoever believes in him,” he is speaking of those who give their “Amen” to Jesus, embracing Him as a trustworthy Savior and committing themselves to Him.

Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Kindle Edition, location 1108)

Around the Interweb

Fearful Might, Majestic Love

My first article for The Gospel Coalition Voices blog:

When a natural disaster strikes, whether last week’s tornadoes or last month’s earthquake and subsequent tsunamis in Japan, we are confronted by a terrible truth: Despite our best efforts, this idea that we have mastered creation is just an illusion.

We cannot tame the weather any more than we can make the sun shine in Seattle or make it stop snowing in Canada. And when the illusion is shattered, we are left horrified.

Then there’s this awe that comes from witnessing the power of the whirlwind as I am forced to stop and consider the unfathomable power of God. And I fear that many of us, myself included, have taken for granted the Lord’s might.

Read the rest at TGC

Also Worth Reading

Ministry: Matt Chandler asks “Is Church Membership Biblical?”

Life: My friend Amber shares the woes of prenatal consumption

Technology: The Christian Email Signoffs Debate

Books: Have you heard about Crossway Impact yet? Check out the video:

In Case You Missed It

The Promise of Change and the False Hope of Politics

John Flavel: Self is the Poise of the Unrenewed Heart

My Memory Moleskine: Wash, Rinse, Repeat…

Tim Keller: The Death of the Mushy Middle (video)

Book Reviews:

  1. The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms
  2. Voices of the True Woman Movement

Matt Chandler: Following God May End Badly (video)

D.A. Carson: Genuine Love is Odd

Self is the Poise of the Unrenewed Heart

To keep the heart, necessarily supposes a previous work of regeneration, which has set the heart right, by giving it a new spiritual inclination, for as long as the heart it not set right by grace as to in habitual frame, no means can keep it right with God. Self is the poise of the unrenewed heart, which biases and moves it in all its designs and actions; and as long as it is so, it is impossible that any external means should keep it with God.

Man, originally, was of one constant, uniform frame of spirit, held one straight and even course; not one thought or faculty was disordered: his mind had a perfect knowledge of the requirements of God, his will a perfect compliance therewith; all his appetites and powers stood in a most obedient subordination.

Man, by the apostasy, is become a most disordered and rebellious creature, opposing his Maker, as the First Cause, by self-dependence; as the Chief Good, by self-love; as the Highest Lord, by self-will; and as the Last End, by self-seeking. Thus he is quite disordered, and all his actions are irregular. But by regeneration the disordered soul is set right; this great change being, as the Scripture expresses it, the renovation of the soul after the image of God, in which self-dependence is removed by faith; self-love, by the love of God; self-will, by subjection and obedience to the will of God; and self-seeking by self-denial. The darkened understanding is illuminated, the refractory will sweetly subdued, the rebellious appetite gradually conquered. Thus the soul which sin had universally depraved, is by grace restored. This being pre-supposed, it will not be difficult to apprehend what it is to keep the heart, which is nothing but the constant care and diligence of such a renewed man to preserve his soul in that holy frame to which grace has raised it. For though grace has, in a great measure, rectified the soul, and given it an habitual heavenly temper; yet sin often actually discomposes it again; so that even a gracious heart is like a musical instrument, which though it be exactly tuned, a small matter brings it out of tune again; yea, hang it aside but a little, and it will need setting again before another lesson can be played upon it. If gracious hearts are in a desirable frame in one duty, yet how dull, dead, and disordered when they come to another! Therefore every duty needs a particular preparation of the heart. ” If thou prepare thine heart and stretch out thine hands toward him,” To keep the heart then, is carefully to preserve it from sin, which disorders it; and maintain that spiritual frame which fits it for a life of communion with God.

John Flavel, On Keeping the Heart (Kindle Edition, location 75)

My Memory Moleskine: Wash, Rinse, Repeat…

Memory Moleskine - Image by Tim Brister

For the last several months, a few thousand people have been working to memorize the book of Philippians as part of the Partnering to Remember project started by Pastor Tim Brister. Now that the formal part is over, one of the biggest challenges I’ve found is making time to actually practice going through the whole book. I usually try to get through even a chapter a day in the morning, but with little kids who seem to know just when not to wake up, I rarely seem to get through it. I try to make up for it by working on it a bit in the car on the way to the office (or my office away from the office [read: Starbucks]) and on the way home, but… sometimes the day just gets in the way.

But I’ve not given up. I’m committed to not letting the last four months of work go to waste because it’s probably been the best use of my private worship time so far in 2011.

Now what about you? Are you in the “wash, rinse, repeat” phase of memorizing Philippians? If so, how are you keeping on track?

Book Review: Voices of the True Woman Movement

I must admit that I took Voices of the True Woman Movement to be polite. I was at the Moody table at The Gospel Coalition and was asked if I’d like a free book by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. I was afraid of what the reaction would be if I said “No, I heard she’s kinda OUT THERE,” so I just said “sure” and took the book and stuck it in my growing bag of free nerd-swag.

I started reading it later that day while waiting for Aaron, and was intrigued. Still apprehensive, but intrigued. Voices of the True Woman Movement is basically a transcript of the first True Woman conference, held in October 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. There are multiple contributors, including John Piper, Mary Kassian, and Joni Eareckson Tada.

The book offers a broad overview of the vision that adherents of conservative, complementarian Christianity have for Christian women today and into the future. It’s a good read, and I especially enjoyed the contributions by John Piper, Mary A. Kassian, and Fern Nichols. I did appreciate the chapter by Nancy Leigh DeMoss as well, to my surprise. DeMoss provides a solid exposition of the story of Esther, and reminds us that living for God’s glory, and not our own, is the only kind of life worth living.

I wasn’t really a fan of the chapter by Karen Loritts – too much of a tough talking football coach vibe for my taste.

The end of the book has a “true woman manifesto” for the reader to review, and there is opportunity to affirm the manifesto by “signing” in online at truewoman.com. I have not signed the manifesto, and probably won’t, but a cursory look at the site seems to indicate it’s a good resource for Christian women.

I think that the best thing I got out of this book was that the True Woman Movement is not something to be afraid of. There’s no push to have 27 children, or burn all your shoes, or wear a veil to church. What the authors do assert that the model of womanhood given to us by the world is a stinking pile, and that Christian woman need to immerse themselves in the word of God and submit to his will for their lives.

I would encourage women especially to read Voices of the True Woman Movement, if for no other reason than to get a sense of complementarianism from a female perspective. I hope you find the book as helpful as I have.


Title: Voices of the True Woman Movement: A Call to the Counter-Revolution
Author: Nancy Leigh DeMoss (editor)
Publisher: Moody Publishers (2010)

Genuine Love is Odd

When I refer to “Enemies, Big and Small,” obviously I am not thinking of their physical dimensions—bantam-weight enemies perhaps as opposed to three-hundred-pound enemies—but of the scale of their enmity. Not all Christians face persecuting enemies, but all Christians face little enemies. We encounter people whose personality we intensely dislike. . . . They are offensive, sometimes repulsive, especially when they belong to the same church. It often seems safest to leave by different doors, to cross the street when you see them approaching, or to find eminently sound reasons not to invite them to any of your social gatherings. And if, heaven forbid, you accidentally bump into such an enemy, the best defense is a spectacularly English civility, coupled with a retreat as hasty as elementary decency permits. After all, isn’t “niceness” what is demanded?

If we find our “friends” only among those we like and who like us, we are indifferentiable from first-century tax collectors and pagans. Both our neighborhood and the church will inevitably include their shares of imperfect, difficult people like you and me. In fact, the church will often collect more than its proportionate share of difficult folk, especially emotionally or intellectually needy folk, precisely because despite all its faults it is still the most caring and patient large institution around. There is a sense in which we should see in our awkward brothers and sisters a badge of honor. The dangers, however, become much greater (as do the rewards) when the church is richly multicultural, because the potential for misunderstandings rises significantly…

Some offenses are of the sort that Christians should follow the procedures set out in Matthew 18; in some cases, there should be excommunication. . . . But in many instances, what is required is simply forbearance driven by love. . . . To bear with one another and to forgive grievances presupposes that relationships will not always be smooth. Most of the time, what is required is not the confrontation of Matthew 18, but forbearance, forgiveness, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, or patience [of Col. 3:12-14]. Christians are to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice (Rom. 12:15).

This action goes way beyond niceness. One thinks of Flannery O’Connor’s biting and hilarious stories with their “nice” Christian ladies who have a domesticated Jesus who approves all they do and all they hold dear. They are spectacularly “nice”; they are also whitewashed tombs (Matt. 23:27). . . . Forbearance and genuine tenderheartedness are much tougher than niceness, and sometimes (as we shall see in a later lecture) tough love is confrontational. Christian love, McEntyre writes, “may even demand that we be downright eccentric, at least if we are to believe O’Connor’s word on the subject: ‘You shall know the truth,’ she warned, ‘and the truth shall make you odd.’” That, of course, is implicitly recognized by Jesus himself. If genuine love among his followers is their characteristic mark (John 13:34-35), then Jesus himself is saying that such love is not normal. It is odd.

D.A. Carson, Love in Hard Places, pp. 52-54 (Also available in PDF format)

Book Review: The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms

The Psalms is one of the most read books in the Old Testament. It’s not hard to understand why since, in many ways, it is the most human book of the Bible. The Psalms are weighty and textured, showing God’s people rejoicing in faith and lamenting in despair. They contain some of the most comforting and provocative words in all Scripture.

Yet, because of the span of time between us and the culture in which they were written, there are a few things that gets lost in translation. When was Psalm 110 written? Why is Selah off to the side in Psalm 3:2? And what is a miktam, anyway? While there are a lot of resources out there that can help readers dig into the meat of the Psalms and clear up confusion about words, expressions and ideas, many are not terribly accessible for a popular audience. With The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms, authors Brian L. Webster and David R. Beach provide readers with a helpful introductory level companion to this beloved section of Scripture.

In many ways, The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms serves as an amped-up version of the introductory notes you’d find in your typical study Bible. They give a very brief overview of the background and structure of each psalm, as well its type and unique characteristics. For the average reader, this is tons of information, but it’s all valuable. There have been many times as I’ve read the Psalms where having some of this material would have been very handy.

A nice feature of the book is the “Reflections” section of each synopsis. These sections offer a devotional element as the authors share their own thoughts on the content of each psalm.

While there are a number of elements that I appreciated, there were a few things that stuck out as negatives. Some are simply preference issues (I thought the majority of the accompanying images were a bit on the cheesy side, for example). But there was one big miss for me, which is that some of the background notes lacked an appropriate connection to Christ. [Read more...]