Many of Jesus’ parables have to do with explaining that the kingdom of God, against the prevalent expectation was no ta bout to come with a cataclysmic bang at that point in history, but was a destined to be introduced slowly (e.g., parable fo the mustard seed and the yeast, Matthew 13:31-33). Other parables demonstrate the power of the principle of reversal in the kingdom, flying in the face of many religious and social values, both then and now (e.g., the good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37). But some of Jesus’ parables, even if they touch on these two themes, bring with them an unmistakable accent of warning.
The parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23; Mark 4:3-9, 13-20), for all that it explains how the kingdom advances—namely, by properly receiving the word, which then germinates and bears fruit—implicitly warns against unreceptive soil. Where the seed is snatched away and its tender stalks are squeezed to death or dehydrated before there is any fruitfulness (despite a good beginning), there we find people who are unresponsive in one fashion or another. If the kingdom grows like wheat sown in a field, there will also be a lot of weeds, and both will grow until the end (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43)…
One of the most striking of these parables is the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). In the hands of some writers, what distinguishes the sheep from the goats is social concern: feeding the hungry, healing the sick, visiting people in prison—along with the dramatic additon of Jesus’ words, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me” (25:40, 45). But that misses the point here.
Certainly the Bible lays considerable stress on compassion, justice, acts of mercy, kindness, and much else—as shown by Isaiah and Amos and the parable of the good Samaritan. But it has often been shown that in Matthew’s gospel the expression “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine” can only refer to the least of his followers. In other words, the sheep and the goats as exposed for what they are by the way they treat the downtrodden of Jesus’ followers. . . . When people persecute the people of Jesus Christ, they are persecuting Jesus Christ himself, prompting him to challenge a Saul on the Damascus Road, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4).
Yet the primary point in these parables . . . is how many of them lay emphasis on the dividing effect of Jesus’ ministry. In the case of the sheep and the goats, the latter will finally “go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous [the former] to eternal life”—with that same expression used for “eternal” in the two expressions. One senses that, in an effort to be magnanimous—in many ways, a very good thing—the pendulum swing now makes it almost impossible to pronounce condemnation on any position or habit of life…
D. A. Carson, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church: Understanding a Movement and Its Implications, pp. 209-210
Christianity today interviewed Anne Rice on following Christ without Christianity (there was a whole hubbub about it on the interwebs a few weeks back). A great quote from the interview:
Are there any other religious authors you read?
I read theology and biblical scholarship all the time. I love the biblical scholarship of D.A. Carson. I very much love Craig S. Keener. His books on Matthew and John are right here on my desk all the time. I go to Craig Keener for answers because his commentary on Scripture is so thorough. I still read N.T. Wright. I love the Catholic theologian Karl Rahner. I love his writing on Jesus Christ. It’s very beautiful to me, and I study a little bit of it every day. Of course, I love Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.
You mentioned D.A. Carson, Craig Keener, and N.T. Wright. They are fairly conservative Protestants.
Sometimes the most conservative people are the most biblically and scholastically sound. They have studied Scripture and have studied skeptical scholarship. They make brilliant arguments for the way something in the Bible reads and how it’s been interpreted. I don’t go to them necessarily to know more about their personal beliefs. It’s the brilliance they bring to bear on the text that appeals to me. Of all the people I’ve read over the years, it’s their work that I keep on my desk. They’re all non-Catholics, but they’re believers, they document their books well, they write well, they’re scrupulously honest as scholars, and they don’t have a bias. Many of the skeptical non-believer biblical scholars have a terrible bias. To them, Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, so there’s no point in discussing it. I want someone to approach the text and tell me what it says, how the language worked.
In Other News
Giving Back: August 21st was my 31st birthday; help me celebrate by donating $31 so 31 families can have clean water to drink.
The following video explains what charity: water is doing in the Central African Republic:
Tributes: Justin Taylor offers this thoughtful tribute to Clark Pinnock, who died on August 15th, 2010, at the age of 73.
Housekeeping: This past week I enjoyed a great week off on Lake Nipissing. Many thanks to Nate Bingham and Will Adair for helping me out with some great content.
In Case You Missed It
Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:
The Gospel is Unbelievable by Nathan W. Bingham
Will Adair looks at the Lord’s Prayer and the part of the gospel he struggles with.
Mark Driscoll describes the average evangelical… pagan.
Dr. D.A. Carson provides a thoughtful, pastoral and biblical answer to this important question with which so many struggle:
D. A. Carson offers a wonderful answer in the video below:
The audio for D.A. Carson’s lecture series, The God Who Is There, is now up at the Gospel Coalition. A new DVD series is being released in the fall. Here’s a preview:
In Other News
Conference Message: Burk Parsons answers the question: “Is Calvinism good for the Church?”
Ministry Opportunities: Desiring God has a number of internships available. Check it out.
In Case You Missed It
Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:
The audio from July 25’s sermon, Spiritual Poverty and the Worship of God
A review of Andreas Kostenberger & Michael Kruger’s latest, The Heresy of Orthodoxy
John Piper answers the question, “Should Christians read the “holy” books of other religions?”
Some thoughts on Abigail’s favorite new record, Meet the Rizers
In his latest (short) book, From The Resurrection to His Return: Living Faithfully in the Last Days, D.A. Carson shares a story from his youth on the necessity of one-to-one discipleship. I heard Dr. Carson share this story back in April and it’s stuck with me, so much so that I wanted to share it with you (which seems appropriate in light of yesterday’s post):
As a chemistry undergraduate at McGill University, with another chap I started a Bible study for unbelievers. That fellow was godly but very quiet and a bit withdrawn.
I had the mouth, I fear, so by default it fell on me to lead the study. The two of us did not want to be outnumbered, so initially we invited only three people, hoping that not more than two would come. Unfortunately, the first night all three showed up, so we were outnumbered from the beginning.
By week five we had sixteen people attending, and still only the initial two of us were Christians. I soon found myself out of my depth in trying to work through John’s Gospel with this nest of students. On many occasions the participants asked questions I had no idea how to answer.
But in the grace of God there was a graduate student on campus called Dave Ward. He had been converted quite spectacularly as a young man. He was, I suppose, what you might call a rough jewel. He was slapdash, in your face, with no tact and little polish, but he was aggressively evangelistic, powerful in his apologetics, and winningly bold. He allowed people like me to bring people to him every once in a while so that he could answer their questions. Get them there and Dave would sort them out!
So it was that one night I brought two from my Bible study down to Dave. He bulldozed his way around the room, as he always did. He gave us instant coffee then, turning to the first student, asked, ‘Why have you come?’ The student replied, ‘Well, you know, I think that university is a great time for finding out about different points of view, including different religions. So I’ve been reading some material on Buddhism, I’ve got a Hindu friend I want to question, and I should also study some Islam. When this Bible study started I thought I’d get to know a little more about Christianity—that’s why I’ve come.’
Dave looked at him for a few moments and then said, ‘Sorry, but I don’t have time for you.’ [Read more…]
“Nothing is more central to the Bible than Jesus’ death and resurrection,” writes D.A. Carson in the preface to Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus. “The entire Bible pivots on one weekend in Jerusalem about two thousand years ago.”
Based on his lecture series A Day with Dr. Don from 2008, Scandalous is Carson’s “modest attempt . . . to provide an introductory explanation of the cross and resurrection,” as he looks at what five passages of Scripture have to teach us about this central point of the Christian faith.
Scandalous is broken into five chapters, based on Carson’s original lectures. His careful exposition of each passage is packed with wisdom as he reminds readers the importance of the cross and resurrection.
The Ironies of the Cross (Matthew 27:27-51a)
One usually doesn’t think of irony being a part of Jesus’ crucifixion; yet, it’s clear that the events of the crucifixion are profoundly ironic. “In the passage before us, Matthew unfolds what takes place as Jesus is crucified—but he does so by displaying four huge ironies that show attentive readers what is really going on,” writes Carson (p. 15).
Carson identifies the following four ironies in the crucifixion:
- The man who is mocked as King is the King
- The man who is utterly powerless is powerful
- The man who can’t save himself saves others
- The man who cries out in despair trusts God
I really appreciated the way that Carson explained the final of these in particular. Why did Jesus cry out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46)
Is it out of self-pity? Had He abandoned His trust in the Father?
No, argues Carson. It’s none of these things. Jesus cried out in despair so that we will never have to. Jesus understood what was going to happen on the cross. But He cried out so that “for all eternity [we] will not have to” (p. 36). It’s a powerful expression of His love for us.
The Center of the Whole Bible (Romans 3:21-26)
This chapter is a powerful exposition on justification and the amazing love of God shown in the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement.
“You must not think that God stands over against us while Christ stands for us, as if Father and Son are somehow at odds, so that the Father takes it out on his Son. God demonstrates his love by Sending Christ. This is bound up with the very nature and mystery of the incarnation and the Trinity. This is the triune God’s plan,” explains Carson.
Do you want to see the greatest evidence of the love of God? Go to the cross. Do you want to see the greatest evidence of the justice of God? Go to the cross. It is where wrath and mercy meet. Holiness and peace kiss each other. The climax of redemptive history is the cross. (p. 70)
And it’s by this cross that we can persevere in the face of tremendous opposition.
The Strange Triumph of a Slaughtered Lamb (Revelation 12)
Chapter three looks at the cross from the apocalyptic view of Revelation. Satan has been cast out of heaven and has no standing before God by which to accuse God’s people. A redeemer—the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world—has risen and Satan is furious.
“Satan is full of rage not because he is spectacularly strong, but because he knows that he is defeated, his end is in sight, the range of his operations is curtailed—and he is furious,” writes Carson. But Christians can stand against him by the blood of the Lamb. We fight the Evil One not with swords and weapons of this world, or by political maneuverings, but by preaching the Gospel and living in light of it.
Retain courage and integrity in the face of opposition, because death cannot frighten those who follow the Prince of Life—and thereby defeat the accuser of the brothers and sisters. (p. 109)
A Miracle Full of Surprises (John 11:1-53)
But death remains the last stronghold. It is our last enemy. Our eternal life begins the moment we are saved by Christ, but our bodies will still feel the effect of sin. And its presence outrages Jesus.
But the solution is not to despair, but to look to Christ who gives eternal life—by dying Himself. Who shows us His love by delay; and who shows us his sovereignty over death in tears and outrage.
This chapter reminds us that there we can have hope because death does not have the last word. But Jesus does.
Doubting the Resurrection of Jesus (John 20:24-31)
The book’s final chapter provided me with a greater appreciation for the Apostle Thomas. Typically when this passage is discussed, Thomas gets a bad rap. He’s “doubting Thomas,” caught on his bad day, perhaps. Oh, how he must be kicking himself over doubting the resurrection, we think.
But this is not so. His doubt, it seems, was perfectly reasonable. He did not want to succumb to gullibility, to have the wool pulled over his eyes, suggests Carson. But what does Jesus mean when he says, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).
Jesus says that those who have not seen and yet believed are blessed. Why? Because they have believed without any evidence at all? No, of course not.
John immediately goes on to say that Jesus did many miraculous signs, and of course they could not all be written down for us. But these are written, the ones in John’s Gospel, including the appearance to Thomas, in order that later generations who will never see the signs, who will not in this life see the resurrected body of Jesus, might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing they may have life through his name. (p. 166)
Carson explains that Thomas becomes part of the chain of evidence for the validity of the claim to Jesus’ resurrection. And “[l]ike Thomas, because of Thomas, they believe, they have eternal life, and they are blessed.”
Were it not for Thomas’ reasonable doubt, we would not have this recorded evidence, and I’m grateful to have been given a deeper understanding of this Apostle.
“Do you believe? Or do you find yourself among the millions who begin to glimpse what the cross is about and dismiss the entire account as scandalous?” asks Carson.
A living-and-dying-and-living God? A God who stands over against us in wrath and who loves us anyway? A cross where punishment is meted out by God and borne by God? Scandalous! (p. 70)
The cross and resurrection of Jesus is scandalous. It kills our pride. It devastates our sense of spiritual self-sufficiency. But it offers us the greatest hope we could ever ask for.
Read this book slowly and savor the scandal of the cross and resurrection of Jesus.
Title: Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus
Author: D.A. Carson
Publisher: Crossway/RE:Lit (2010)
On Saturday, April 24, 2010, I had the privilege of attending The Gospel Coalition’s first ever Canadian conference featuring D.A. Carson and Mike Bullmore as the keynote speakers.
Dr. Carson kicked off the conference with the message Christian Faithfulness in the Last Days – The Need for the Gospel Coalition.
He began with by giving us a bit of background on how the Gospel Coalition came together as he and Tim Keller from Redeemer Presbyterian came together and realized they’d been reflecting on something similar: The centrality of the gospel was being lost in evangelicalism. “Today, people do what is right in their own eyes—with the gospel becom[ing] something assumed rather than central,” lamented Carson. The Gospel Coalition came together out of a desire “to be robust about Scripture [and] to hold up the centrality of the gospel.” And this is of the greatest import for those of us living in “the last days.”
While some have indulged in “a feeding frenzy of speculation over the end times,” Carson reminded us that, “The last days refer to the entire period between Christ’s ascension and second coming. Whether it’s three weeks or three thousand years is irrelevant. . . . All authority has been given to Jesus, and while it’s contested, the kingdom has still come. The old is passing away.”
This led to a study of 2 Timothy 3:1-4:8, first asking, “What does Paul see in the last days?” [Read more…]
Recently I was listening to a lecture by Dr. D.A. Carson on Romans 3:21-26, “The Center of the Whole Bible.” In his background to the text, he reminded his hearers that for the previous two and a half chapters, Paul had been building an argument that there is no excuse for a denial of God—culminating in a series of references to the Old Testament in Romans 3:10-18:
“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
“Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
The beginning of this argument, though, is found in Romans 1:18-23 which reads:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
“Claiming to be wise, they became fools…” That’s a powerful statement, isn’t it?
My old pastor would often lament the reality that people today are educated beyond their intelligence. We have access to more information than any culture in the history of man, but little wisdom.
Dr. J. Budziszewski is the author of several books including Written on the Heart, The Resurrection of Nature, The Nearest Coast of Darkness, True Tolerance and What We Can’t Not Know: A Guide, and a professor of Philosophy and Government at the University of Texas at Austin.
He knows this reality all too well.
In fact, he wrote his dissertation on it—opposing the idea that we had any inherent sense of morality at all. [Read more…]
Dr. D.A. Carson on the drifting of evangelicalism:
If you can’t see the video, click through to The Drifting of Evangelicalism.
I really appreciated this video featuring D.A. Carson on what he believes the church in America needs. It’s a message that I believe we would all be wise to pay close attention to. Agree? Disagree?
What the Church in America needs is what the Church of the living God in every age and culture always needs. It can be put a lot of different ways. To make the first things the first things—that is to focus on what the Bible makes central.
It needs to preach Christ, but not as a cipher, but Christ as the incarnation of the Living God, who has come amongst us not only to teach us, but also to introduce this dramatic, life-transforming saving reign, all grounded in His death on our behalf, bearing our sins in his own body on the tree so the righteous wrath of God is turned away because of God’s own decisive love for us. He gives His own Son so that we may be reconciled to Him, reconciled to each other in anticipation of the climactic new heaven and new earth, resurrection life still to come, and already that transforms everything and makes us a new community of men and women who are already borne along by the Holy Spirit, living in the power of the age to come.
That’s what it needs always. Always!
Those are central things because we see them to be central in the Word of God. Well what this is the preaching and teaching of the Word of God in the power of the Spirit to see men and women transformed.
And whether people believe it or not—whether the proclamation of this message is, as Paul puts it, an aroma to some of life, of sweetness, or an aroma to others of the stench of death… In one sense, that doesn’t matter nearly so much as being faithful.
In Isaiah’s day, according to chapter six of that prophecy, he was called to preach—and preach in such a way that in fact people would be blinded and deafened. This, you find also in the teaching of Jesus in John chapter eight. There, Jesus says, “Because I tell you the truth, you do not believe.”
That is stunning, it is horribly shocking.
It’s not a concessive. “Although I tell you the truth you do not believe.” It’s causal. “Because I tell you the truth.”
So there are times and places and history, there are always people in every generation in history for whom the truth is so offensive that it guarantees unbelief. In other words, the truth itself is so offensive that articulating the truth is going to harden their hearts.
And if that’s the case, then you don’t start asking, “Well, I guess I’d better preach some untruth, shouldn’t I?”
Rather you remain faithful, and you leave the results with God, and it will draw some, because it will be an aroma of life to some, even if turns out to be an aroma of death to others.
So what we always need then is faithfulness, and understanding the Bible, teaching the Bible, preaching the Bible, living out the Bible for the glory of God, for the good of his blood-bought people, living in the light of eternity.
And that also teaches us how to live in our day-to-day existence.
The Gospel Coalition has launched a new blog—one that’s not really a blog at all, but a free digital version of D.A. Carson’s two volume devotional For the Love of God. For the Love of God is designed to walk a person through the Bible in a year with commentary provided by Carson. For example, January 2 you would read Genesis 2; Matthew 2; Ezra 2; Acts 2 and Carson’s commentary on Genesis 2. An excerpt follows:
WHAT A STRANGE WAY, we might think, to end this account of Creation: “The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame” (Gen. 2:25). Hollywood would love it: what an excuse for sexual titillation if someone tries to place the scene on the big screen. We hurry on, chasing the narrative.
Yet the verse is strategically placed. It links the account of the creation of woman and the establishment of marriage (Gen 2:18-24) with the account of the Fall (Gen. 3). On the one hand, the Bible tells us that woman was taken from man, made by God to be “a helper suitable for him” (2:18), yet doubly one with him: she is bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh (2:24), the paradigm of marriages to come, of new homes and new families. On the other hand, in the next chapter we read of the Fall, the wretched rebellion that introduces death and the curse. Part of that account, as we glean from tomorrow’s reading, finds the man and the woman hiding from the presence of the Lord, because their rebellion opened their eyes to their nakedness (3:7, 10). Far from being unashamed, their instinct is to hide.
HT: Justin Taylor
In other news
Ed Stetzer shares some new research on how Protestant pastors spend their time
Michael Hyatt asks seven questions to consider about last year
John Piper shares 10 resolutions for mental health
In Case you missed it
Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:
Looking at the books I enjoyed most over 2009 made me think about the ones I’m really looking forward to in 2010. Here are a few:
Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe
by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears
This book, a 464 page systematic theology based on Driscoll’s preaching series in 2008 is bound to leave an impression. About the book:
Doctrine is the word Christians use to define the truth-claims revealed in Holy Scripture. Of course there is a multitude of churches, church networks, and denominations, each with their own doctrinal statement with many points of disagreement. But while Christians disagree on a number of doctrines, there are key elements that cannot be denied by anyone claiming to be a follower of Jesus. In Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe, Driscoll and Breshears teach thirteen of these key elements. This meaty yet readable overview of basic doctrine will help Christians clarify and articulate their beliefs in accordance with the Bible.
Dug Down Deep
by Joshua Harris
Joshua Harris’ latest book focuses on the practical importance of theology in the life of every believer as it shares Harris’ journey to having an informed knowledge of God as the foundation of his spiritual life. From the book:
The irony of my story—and I suppose it often works this way—is that the very things I needed, even longed for in my relationship with God, were wrapped up in the very things I was so sure could do me no good. I didn’t understand that such seemingly worn-out words as theology, doctrine, and orthodoxy were the pathway to the mysterious, awe-filled experience of truly knowing the living Jesus Christ.
They told the story of the Person I longed to know.
Dug Down Deep will be released on January 19th (and my ARC arrived on Tuesday!)
Continuing from yesterday’s post, here are the second five books I’ve found to be the most helpful, meaningful and enjoyable, in no particular order (probably):
by Robert L. Peterson and Alexander Strauch
R.C. Chapman is relatively unknown today but a man all believers would do well to see a role model in our pursuit of holiness. In Agape Leadership: Lessons in Spiritual Leadership from the Life of R.C. Chapman, authors Robert L. Peterson and Alexander Strauch introduce us to Chapman and his commitment to not only preaching Christ, but living Christ. And live Christ he did. This short and convicting read is a must for all who wish to grow in Christlike leadership.
“Fundamentalism” and the Word of God
by J.I. Packer
“Fundamentalism” and the Word of God was first published 51 years in the midst of the British ”Fundamentalism” controversy of the 1950s—a controversy centering around the authority of Scripture. In this work, Packer offers rebuttal and sharp rebuke to those who would unwisely seek to sit in judgement of Scripture, who have fallen prey to perennial error of subjectivism, and reminds readers that as Christians, we are not to stop thinking, but to stop thinking sinfully.
The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment
by Tim Challies
We live in a culture where “anything goes” is the epitome of all wisdom, even in the church. That’s why author and blogger Tim Challies wrote The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment—a book for those who look at all that is said and done and ask the hard question, “how can this be right?”; for all who (rightly) believe it is “the duty of every Christian to think biblically about all areas of life so that they might act biblically in all areas of life.”
Religion Saves & Nine Other Misconceptions
by Mark Driscoll
Inspired by 1 Corinthians, Pastor Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church in Seattle began the “Ask Anything” campaign on their website. 893 questions and 343,203 votes later, the top nine questions were selected for the sermon series, Religion Saves & Nine Other Misconceptions, which was then reformatted and expanded into this book. Driscoll handles an extremely diverse and difficult series of subjects, including dating, sexual sin, grace, predestination, the emerging church and humor, all the while trying to point readers to the risen, exalted Christ. The result is a book that ended up being his most mature to date and one that I believe most anyone would benefit from.
Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor
by D.A. Carson
I first read Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor in February, 2009, and I was amazed by the story of this “ordinary” pastor who is truly anything but. Learning about this man who, ultimately, never realized how far his influence reached (and I suspect wouldn’t really care)… He is a true hero of mine. Without question, this book is my favorite of 2009 and I’m grateful that D.A. Carson chose to honor his father with this memoir.
And that wraps up my top ten of 2009 and there were other books that might have made the list if I did it again. Heck, I’ll probably think of one or two that should switch out tomorrow.
But what about you? What were your favorite reads of this past year?