Lost in Transmission

lost-transmission

After writing online daily for six years, I’ve learned a valuable lesson: slander sells.

If you want to get people’s attention, you’ve got to be willing to go for the click bait… or at least, that’s what I keep seeing other people do. Honestly, when controversies come about, the last thing I want to do is write (or read for that matter) is 14 articles on why so-and-so is a gospel-denying liberal who probably voted for Obama and would gladly do so again, or whatever it is that people are doing this week.

Although my example is a bit ridiculous (though, sadly, not by much), I’ve seen the approach doesn’t actually help with encouraging discussion and offering correction. Instead, it causes people—particularly offenders and defenders—to dig their heels in and double-down. Even if the people who are angrily blogging are right about whatever they’re writing about, the vitriol with which they write obscures their point.

This is something I appreciated about Nicholas Perrin’s tact in Lost in Transmission. This relatively short book was released a number of years ago to address the criticisms of Bart Erhman, he of Misquoting Jesus fame (so it might be strange to see something close to resembling a review of it at this stage).

The challenge for Christians

Perrin has two goals in this book: the first is to challenge Christians to not be frightened of challenges to their faith. For, “when people succumb to that temptation of ignoring challenges to their faith, they are in the end demonstrating that they are more committed to the feeling of having a lock on truth than they are to truth itself” (XXI).

This is something that too many of us, I suspect, would affirm yet practically deny. How quickly do we get our back up when someone challenges our position on a particular issue, regardless of significance? Are we able to engage thoughtfully with critique or do we immediately get our rage on?

There isn’t an easy answer to this question, at least not for me. I know there have been far too many times when I’ve behaved like an arrogant so-and-so because I thought I was right (and sometimes I even was). But my “rightness” was really just being unwilling to be challenged. And this simply will not do: if we’re serious about the truth, then we need to be serious about the truth. If we’re unwilling to be challenged, how do we expect to grow in our faith?

The unknowable Jesus

Second, Perrin wants to demonstrate why we need not fear—and he does this by illustrating the insufficiency of the challenges put forward by Erhman. But he doesn’t do this with mockery, but civil engagement. It is clear he’s read Erhman carefully, for he understands the heart of the matter. As a scholar, Erhman long ago succumbed to the “deeply ingrained pressure toward historical agnosticism (we can’t know what Jesus really said)” (60). This, in turn fuels religious agnosticism—that if we can’t know what Jesus said, we can’t know if what he said was true and therefore we can’t know who he really is.

If we can know what Jesus said, that puts us in a position whereby we must decide on Jesus. Either he was who he and his followers claimed him to be, or he was not. But if we cannot get back to Jesus because his words and very identity have been all but lost in transmission, then this keeps alive a corresponding agnosticism when it comes to weighing Jesus’ claims against other counteroffers. (60-61)

Now, even in his many errors, Erhman has long been a defender against those who would try to argue that we cannot know if Jesus even existed at all (something many of his critics have even given him praise for). Erhman’s issue is not Jesus’ existence, but whether we can know much, if anything, about him.

The transmuted Jesus

Thus, he offers the gnostic writings in all their peculiar glory as alternative “Christianities” that didn’t gain prominence simply because the sects promoting what we now consider orthodoxy won the fight. But, as Perrin writes, “it was not the Christians who were sitting in the second-century equivalent of smoke-filled rooms, cutting deals as to what constituted right belief and what should be in the canon” (160).

Power belonged to the Romans, not to the Christians. But the Gnostics had nothing to fear from Rome:

The Gnostics wanted to have Jesus, but at the very point at which identifying with Jesus’ mission became politically or socially awkward, the Gnostics had a way of transmuting Jesus into their own ideal of a starry-eyed mystic or Greek philosopher. (161)

It’s easier to turn Jesus into something other than Jesus than to follow Jesus when it’s not advantageous. This is what we’re seeing in our own day as people lament the decline of Christianity in the West. But that’s not what’s happening: people who didn’t believe anyway are now just admitting they don’t believe. There’s no social benefit to professing to be Christian (at least culturally), so it’s better to not do it at all.

Engaging with respect and what this book still has to teach us

As I said before, this is a relatively old book—and, honestly, I’d recommend The Heresy of Orthodoxy by Köstenberger and Kruger ahead of this if you’re looking for an evangelical critique of Erhman. But it’s it’s still one worth reading. Why? Because although it is not as thorough a refutation as some might like, in reading it, you get to learn how to approach controversial or destructive teaching with respectful engagement.

This is something I’ve tried to do for the majority of my time as a blogger (although I know there are times when I’ve failed in it). Nevertheless, it is the approach I prefer to take when possible.

Probably the most difficult aspect of this is the fact that this sort of engagement requires actually reading opposing viewpoints carefully and fairly. If anything, this is probably the most difficult thing to do. It’s easy to pick up a book by someone like Rachel Held Evans1 and have pretty good sense of what it’s going to be about going in. It’s quite another to go in knowing we’re likely going to disagree with it, and still do our best to give it a fair reading.

That’s what I want to see when I engage with the ideas of others. It’s what I want to see when any Christian seriously engages with anyone’s thoughts. Ad hominem attacks, mockery, and potentially jumping to conclusions… those are easy, and lazy, and really have no place in the Christian life. But to engage with someone else’s thoughts, and to actually try to understand where they’re coming from and be able to articulate it well enough that my “opponent” could say, “Yes, that’s what I believe”—to contend without being contentious—is much more difficult. It takes a great deal more patience, which, in all honesty is the most difficult part for me (again, primarily because it is so much easier to not). But I think it’s worth it. While there might be better rebuttals of Erhman on the market (and there are), there are few that provide as helpful an example of respectful engagement and disagreement.


Title: Lost in Transmission? What We Can Know About the Words of Jesus
Author: Nicholas Perrin
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (2009)

Buy it at: Amazon

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Today’s the last day to get the 9Marks “Building Healthy Churches” series $4.99 each:

Also on sale:

What should the Duggar scandal teach the church?

Russell Moore:

…sexual abuse in the context of the church must be handled in terms of both authorities responsible—both the church and the state. The state has been given the sword of justice to wield against those who commit crimes (Rom. 13:1-7). The church has no such sword (Matt. 26:51-53). This means that the immediate response to allegations of sexual abuse is to call the civil authorities, to render unto Caesar the responsibility that belongs to Caesar to investigate the crime. The church may or may not know the truth of the allegations, but it is the God-ordained prerogative of the civil authorities to discover such matters and to prosecute accordingly. When faced with a question of potential sexual abuse, call the authorities without delay.

A word to the journal writers and bloggers

Kim Shay:

For those who write in journals (and for those who blog with a lot of transparency), beware. Every thought does not need to be recorded. Instead of recording negative thoughts, write things that are good. Write about how proud you are of your kids, how much you love your family, the daily provision of God, the joy He gives. I can toss my journals aside in the garbage if I feel like they contain nothing edifying. Sure, pour out your thoughts to God, like the Psalmist did, but write with kindness and grace. Don’t be harsh.

More real

Great stuff from Ray Ortlund.

When You Fear the Future

Trillia Newbell:

I’m not sure if there is a greater fear for women than the fear of what’s to come (or what won’t come). You and I rightly pray for our husband, children, schools, and whether to pursue a career, but we don’t often come to God in peace. Instead we come anxiously awaiting our fate. Goodness will follow all the days of her life, or her life, or maybe her life, we might think, but surely not my life. It’s hard not to have control, and one thing that we can’t ever determine is what lies ahead. Thankfully, God’s Word is packed with sweet promises that smash all our fearful thinking.

Charles Spurgeon’s 9 Tips for Christian Readers

Grateful Kevin Halloran compiled these quotes.

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Crossway’s deals of the week focus on the family:

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And several by C.S. Lewis:

Why the “third day”?

Mitchell Chase points us to “an overall pattern of incredible third-day events” in the Old Testament to better understand Jesus promise to rise on the third day.

The Most Neglected Part of Christ’s Saving Work

Nick Batzig:

In recent years, it has become more commonplace to hear certain theologians emphasize that the ascension and present reign of Christ are the most neglected aspects of His work of redemption; and, while there is great merit in highlighting the consequences of such a neglect of these precious truths, I have come to believe that the most neglected part of Christ’s saving work is actual what happened to Him in between His death and resurrection. The Apostle Paul put Jesus’ burial on par with His death and resurrection. When he spoke of the “Gospel” he did so by singling out the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. So what part does the burial of Jesus play in the work of redemption. Here are three significant features about His burial.

Say Goodbye to Lifeboat Theology

Tom Nelson:

In this theological perspective, God’s lifeboat plan of redemption is concerned only with the survival of his people. However noble and well-meaning our efforts to salvage God’s creation may be, at the end of the day, our work on this doomed earth only amounts to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

But God is deeply concerned with the crown of his fallen creation and has initiated a glorious plan of redemption through his Son Jesus. He has not abandoned this world.

Cancer Is a Parable About Sin

The Hymn of the Legalist

This is good (and smarts a bit).

The Story Behind The Song “I Stand In Awe”

Mark Altrogge:

Over the years, people have asked me how I wrote the song “I Stand in Awe.” I wish I had some jaw-dropping tale of how I was caught up to the third heaven and handed a scroll with the lyrics written in gold ink. Or at least that I was driving in my car and the song came into my mind in a flash of divine inspiration. No, my songwriting process is usually pretty pedestrian and mundane (slow and unimpressive).

Ingratitude is madness

madness-cross

Whenever some new scandal erupts—particularly if it’s of a political nature—I’m not terribly surprised. Grieved, yes. Frustrated, sometimes. Surprised, no. Why? Because, whether it’s a politician getting caught doing something he or she shouldn’t have been,1 attempts to remove the ability for doctors to act in accordance with their consciences,2 or companies attempting to make gender irrelevant through ever-increasing options,3 it’s just the old story of ingratitude playing out, once again. For it was in spite of all God had done and all the blessings he had given them that Adam and Eve turned their backs and sinned against him. And this, as Martyn Lloyd-Jones reminds us, is what every single person who has not truly turned to Christ continues to do every moment.

Consider all that God has done:

It is God who was given you life. It is God who saw to it that you should be born into a family with loved ones who would care of you and look after you. It is God who ordained marriage. It is God who ordained the family. It is God who ordained the state. It is God the Father who sends the rain. It is God who gives the sun. It is God who fructifies the crops in the field and gives us food… It is God in his beneficence who does all this. (The Gospel in Genesis, 39)

All of this—all of life—comes from God. They are good gifts from him. We take, we employ, and we enjoy his gifts—but we fail to give thanks to God for them. We even has the audacity to employ his gifts in our attempts to deny and discredit him! He even gave us the greatest gift of all—sending his only son, Jesus, to humble himself, go to the cross and die so that we might be forgiven and redeemed. Yet “men spat in his face. They still do” (40).

In spite of all that God had done for them, [Adam and Eve] believed the lie and men and women still believe the lie. They have looked at Calvary, they have looked at the cross, and they have said, “It’s not true. God is against us.” The God who did this is against us? There is only one thing to say about that. It is madness, my friends. (40)

Jones was—and is—absolutely correct. It is utter madness to say this God is against us. This God who gives us life and breath and all things; this God who did not spare his only son for us. And yet, there will be many who enter our churches believing this to be so. Men, women and children who are beguiled and blinded. Terrifyingly, some of them will enter the pulpit or walk onstage. They will continue to walk in ingratitude, denying and decrying the Lord. And it will go on this way until God puts an end to this madness. Until he opens their eyes and removes their blinders. Pray that today would be the day.

Links I like

Yesterday, the Internet was going insane about llamas and a dress that changes color. My wife captures them both:

internet-hysteria

You’re welcome, Planet Earth. Now, on to $5 Friday at Ligonier, where you’ll find a number of great resources for sale, including:

  • The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts by Douglas Bond (Hardcover)
  • The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards by Steven Lawson (ePub)
  • The Spirit of Revival: Discovering the Wisdom of Jonathan Edwards (ePub)

$5 Friday ends at 11:59:59 tonight.

More, But Not Less, Than a Carpenter

Tom Nelson:

I don’t know why I didn’t see it for so long, but one day as I was reading through the Gospel of Mark, I stumbled across a verse that stopped me dead in my tracks. In Mark 6, we are told that Jesus, who was spending his time as an itinerant rabbi, came back to Nazareth. The hometown crowd listened to Jesus teach in the synagogue, and they were stunned by their native son who was displaying such extraordinary wisdom and power. In their eyes Jesus was first and foremost a carpenter from Nazareth. Mark records the crowd exclaiming with a tone of incredulity, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him” (Mark 6:3).

What Do You Really Want Your Church To Be Known For?

Stephen Altrogge:

I heard a story of a group of people who visited London in the time of Charles Spurgeon.  First they went to hear a famous preacher in another church. After they heard him they said, “What a preacher!” Then they went to Spurgeon’s church and heard him preach. After listening to Spurgeon they exclaimed “What a Savior!”

Recovering Joy In Seminary

David Murray:

A young man goes to Seminary bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Having sensed God’s call to the ministry, he’s not only excited about preparing for future service but also about growing in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. He expects that the next 3-4 years are going to be some of the best in his life.

Fast forward a semester or two, or three, and the eyes are dull and the tail is sagging and dragging. The excitement has evaporated, as he forces himself into classes each day. He’s not only lost his enthusiasm for ministry, at times he’s lost hope for his own soul. Instead of growing in grace and knowledge he feels his soul shrinking and even backsliding. Sadly, it’s an all-too-common scenario for many (most?) seminary students.

Icebergs of filth

In a stunning example of common grace at work, Russell Brand gets it right on the dangers of pornography:

In awe of the incarnation

lightstock_103614_small_aaron_armstrong

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us… John 1:14a

Let’s just stop and sit with this verse for a moment: “The Word became flesh.”

It’s so easy for us to lose our sense of awe at little things like this. To read a verse like John 1:14 and gloss over what it says. But we should never do this.

Ever.

Remember: Jesus—the Word through whom all things were created; the light of the world, who brings salvation to all who believe in his name—became flesh. That God would take upon human flesh is simply mind-boggling:

  • The omnipresent became present.
  • The infinite would become finite.
  • The invisible became visible.

And what’s more—he dwelt among us. Literally, Jesus, John says, “pitched his tent” among his people, calling us back to the days of the tabernacle in the wilderness. There, in his tent, God dwelt among the people, though he could not be seen by them. But Jesus, the Word made flesh, could be seen and could be touched.

The only Son—unique and one-of-a-kind, who is exactly like the Father in all of his attributes.

Do not shrug this off. Do not nod in assent. Let your jaw drop as you really think about what John has just said. Jesus is the Word made Flesh. Immanuel, God among us.

Photo via Lightstock

The first glimpse of the promise—and the hope of promises still to be fulfilled

origin_6895872661

So where the promise begin? Where do we see the first glimpse into God’s plan for restoration?

The very moment sin entered the world.

When God created the world, He called it “very good”—it was a world without sin, without suffering or sorrow. Everyone and everything lived in perfect harmony. But, the crafty serpent—the one John identifies as Satan himself in Revelation 12:9—came and tempted the first woman with a promise:

To be like God.

He questioned God’s command, placing doubt into the mid of Eve—and Adam who was right there with her.

So the two ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and “their eyes were opened.” And when God saw what they had done, and confronted them, God cursed them all. He curses the woman to pain in childbirth and enmity between her and her husband. He curses the man to fruitless toil, instead of fruitful labor.

But notice, even as He curses the serpent, God makes a promise:

The LORD God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:14-15)

And here we have it: the first glimpse into the promise.

One day the offspring of the woman would come. He would be injured—his heel would be bruised by the serpent—but he would crush the serpent.

That’s the promise: this mess that was made would be undone by the death of the serpent—and his death would come at the hands of this Promised One.

And the good news is this hazy first glimpse into the promise is just the beginning. Over time, the Lord would make the identity of the Offspring clear… beginning with a promise to a pagan man, Abram (later Abraham), from whom He promised to make a great nation, and to whose offspring he would give the land of Abram’s sojourning (Genesis 12:1-7; 13:15; 17:18).

And as we continue to read through the Old Testament, the promise becomes more and more clear. The promise was repeated to Isaac, and then again to Isaac’s son Jacob, and then once again to Jacob’s son Judah. And from Judah’s family, we meet another man, a man named Boaz, who would redeem a Moabite woman named Ruth and her Israelite mother-in-law, Naomi. And Boaz and Ruth would have a son, named Obed, who would have a son named Jesse… and he would have a son named David.

And to David, God made another promise, saying He would “will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. …the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (see 2 Samuel 7:8-16).

David, the man after God’s own heart, God’s “prince over [his] people Israel,” was a man. He would die, and his son would take the throne after him. He would build a house for the Lord, and his kingdom would be established forever. But this promise, though it referred to Solomon in part, wasn’t about Solomon. Instead, it was Someone who would come after. And as Israel abandoned the Lord, God continually prevented their outright destruction for the sake of his eternal covenant with David. And as he would send prophet after prophet, he continued to speak this promise:

The offspring of David, the “stump” and “branch” of Jesse, would come. And we would know Him because of a sign: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).

And of this child, it was said that, “the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousnes from this time forth and forevermore” (Isaiah 9:6-7).

So who is this one whom God promised to send?

One upon whose shoulders the government would stand. One whose government and increase would never end. Whose throne and kingdom would be established forever.

God Himself.

And in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the child who would be born of a virgin, God did come. And his government has been established. There will be no end of His rule. He will reign with justice and righteousness forevermore.

This is the good news we celebrate at Christmas, the greatest Christmas gift of all: the coming of the Lord.

God fulfilled His promise. And if God fulfilled this one—one that literally changed the entire world—will He not do the same with those yet to be fulfilled?

For the Christian, Christmas isn’t just about celebrating the birth of Jesus, nor is it only celebrating the fulfillment of a promise made long ago. It’s a reminder that God will fulfill every promise He has made to His people—that the good work He has begun in us will be brought to completion, that He will indeed make all things new, and that all who believe will stand before Him forever, without fear of judgment.


Photo credit: ChaoticMind75 via photopin cc

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Book deals for Christian readers

This week there have been some pretty phenomenal deals on eBooks at Amazon. You can check out the big lists here and here. Today, I’ve got just a few more for you to check out:

Also in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org, you’ll find several terrific resources like:

  • Life in Christ: Becoming and Being a Disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ by Jeremy Walker (paperback)
  • John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology edited by Burk Parsons (ePub)
  • When Worlds Collide by R.C. Sproul (ePub)

Who Do You Say That I Am?

Kevin DeYoung:

The question is doubly crucial in our day because not every Jesus is the real Jesus. Almost no one is as popular in this country as Jesus. Hardly anyone would dare to say a bad word about him. Just look at what a super-fly friendly dude he is over there. But how many people know the real Jesus?

Quarantine in the Age of Ebola

Robert Cutillo:

The current Ebola crisis is the most recent iteration of contagious disease, following SARS in 2003 and swine flu in 2009. It is uncanny how the same themes return as we deal with the largest outbreak of Ebola since it first emerged in 1976. Facing the fear of fatal disease, it is not surprising that our base reactions remain the same. But each time our collective souls are bared by these moments of vulnerability, we have the opportunity to respond with truth and compassion. What are we doing with what we know—which is quite a bit, thanks to the understanding of current science—combined with a significant truth about life revealed to us by God?

When Fear Haunts Us

Erin Straza:

Our susceptibility to fear has many contributing factors: bent of personality, past trauma, current drama, and so on. Although everyone faces fear, we each face it in our own unique way, making it a rather isolating experience. The situations and trials that stir up my anxiety may do little to stir up yours, and vice versa. Because we share the susceptibility to fear, however, it should increase our ability to empathize and offer support when it knocks one of our own down for the count. At the very least, we should, by now, be well aware of the ways it attacks us personally.

 Looking for Love in all the Right Places

Lore Ferguson:

When I was young, rebellious and caustic, rolling my eyes at my parents at age 10 and sneering at them by age 15, they would say, “Look at me when I’m talking to you,” and I felt seen, exposed.

I knew I was already seen and exposed, but I felt it. I felt it when I saw their disappointment or disapproval or anger at me. When I saw it in their eyes. I felt that. I felt every weight and every sin and every bit of my flesh rolled up and held in their parental gaze. And I looked away. I could not hold that look for long, my sin was too great, their anger too heavy.

A Debate I Would Watch

Tim Challies:

This week I read a chapter that teaches the value of self-examination and self-abasement. I was immediately struck by the difference between the heart of Owen’s understanding of the Christian life and what passes for Christian living today. I don’t mean to pick on an easy target, but it makes a fascinating contrast to compare Owen’s books with, say, Joel Osteen’s. I am not exaggerating when I say that they really are polar opposites in just about every way. Though both pass as Christian books, they could hardly be more different.

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

How a French Atheist Becomes a Theologian

Guillaume Bignon:

If French atheists rarely become evangelical Christians, how much rarer it is for one to become an evangelical Christian theologian. So what happened? One might argue that with 66 million French people, I’m just a fluke, an anomaly. I am inclined to see it as the work of a God who says, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy” (Rom. 9:15). Hearing the facts may help you decide for yourself.

How to Succeed in Evangelical Twitterland

Jared Oliphant:

Not every pithy saying I conjure up needs to be shared publicly, and almost all of them serve the church only minimally, if at all. The textbook definition of aphorism is “a short phrase that expresses a true or wise idea.” Evangelicals could use a hefty dose of truth and wisdom to go along with our publicly posted ideas. Whether that translates into a large following, a bunch of retweets, or any other form of human praise should pale in comparison to quality and faithfulness of content, whatever its form.

Mothering in the Internet Age

Betsy Childs:

Between websites and message boards and Facebook groups, women have access to more parenting data and advice than ever before. Mothers can keep up with the latest safety standards and nutrition trends. They chat with women across the country whose children have the same ailments. They can even connect with other mothers online during a midnight feeding!

Given the wealth of information, do younger women still need older women when it comes to mothering? I’ve seen the research-oriented culture of modern mothering drive a wedge between young women and older women. Older women mock young mothers for being so safety-conscious. Younger women dismiss older women because they don’t know the latest car seat safety standards, or they suggest that the baby would sleep better on his stomach.

Give Me the Doubly Offensive Jesus, Please

Trevin Wax:

Jesus said He came to call sinners to repentance. The church is offended that Jesus’ call is for sinners. The world is offended that He calls for repentance.

That’s why the world minimizes His exclusive claims until Jesus is reduced to a social justice warrior who affirms people as they are. And that’s why the church minimizes His inclusive call until Jesus is reduced to a badge of honor for church folks who think their obedience makes them right with God.

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

And over at Westminster Bookstore, you can get Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real With God About Sex by John Freeman for $9.99 or $7 when you buy five or more.

The Great, Redemptive Multi-Tasker

Nick Batzig shares a great meditation on Christ.

The King Who Never Married

Petar Nenadov:

It’s an odd story when the king never marries. Ancient kings not only married, but also married again and again. And if dozens or hundreds of wives could not suffice, there were always concubines.

Wouldn’t a king who never married be some kind of lesser king?

Is World Magazine A Muck-Raker?

David Murray:

This New York Times headline caught my attention yesterday: A Muckraking Magazine Creates A Stir Among Evangelical Christians. I scrolled through my mental rolodex and couldn’t imagine what magazine they could possibly be writing about. I clicked through to discover that it was World Magazine they were referring to.

Yes, World Magazine! A muckraking magazine?

Stunned, I could only assume that World Magazine had suddenly fallen into Rupert Murdoch’s hands, or that the highly-respected editorial team had been ousted in a Hollywood Reporter coup, or that I had missed some World-shattering online revelations in the week since I’d last read the magazine.

Not alphabet soup: the truth about Psalm 119

Jesse Johnson:

Psalm 119 is the longest poem in the Bible. It is the longest prayer in the Bible. It is the longest acrostic in the Bible. It is the longest chapter in the Bible. It stands at the center of the Bible, and it is about the Bible. The longest Psalm is a psalm about Psalms. The most intimidating chapter in the Word is also a chapter about the Word.

3 passages I want to preach (but have been afraid to)

raffaello-sanzio-cartoon-for-st-paul-preaching-in-athens

I’m going to let you in on a not-so-secret secret: preaching is really hard. It’s a task that can (or should) make even the most confident man a little weak in the knees. One of the things that’s always freaked me out has been trying to choose the right passage to preach… What if it’s the “wrong” message for the church, or what if I do injustice to the text? And let’s face it, some texts are significantly harder to teach than others.

Here’s a look at three books I want to preach, but have been afraid to:

Obadiah. How many sermons on this book have you heard? Thanks to The Gospel Project, I think my kids have now heard more messages on it than I have (that being, one). But this book, despite being the shortest book of the Old Testament, is rich with gospel goodness, with its powerful reminder that the Lord is sovereign over all nations and that He judges all and He has made a way to escape His wrath.

Genesis. Specifically, Genesis 1. It’s not because I’m afraid to wade into the origins debate, but because I don’t want that to be a distraction from a larger point in the text: this passage is primarily about Jesus—His power, His wisdom, His character and His redemptive work. And too often the origins debate overlooks this important truth. (This, incidentally, I’ve been thinking about coupling with Romans 1.)

2 John. This one is challenging in some ways simply because it’s so short (13 verses!). But again, it’s packed with richness that we can overlook due to the letter’s length. But just think about 2 John 9-11:

Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.

This is such a strong warning from the apostle John—if you don’t believe what He said and do what He commands, you’re not Christian. Worse, if you allow false teachers to be among you, you’re indicted along with them. That’s heavy stuff, isn’t it?

So, those are a few of the passages I’ve wanted to preach, but have been afraid to—at least up until now. I’m working on my summer preaching itinerary now (and if you’re interested in having me come to your church, drop me a line!), and now I’m praying about the texts to preach—and specifically whether or not to teach some of these. It’ll be interesting to see where He leads.

What are some books you’ve never heard preached? Pastors, what are some books you’ve wanted to preach but have shied away from?

Where the Sermon on the Mount leads

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Strange indeed is the complacency with which modern men can say that the Golden Rule and the high ethical principles of Jesus are all that they need. In reality, if the requirements for entrance into the Kingdom of God are what Jesus declares them to be, we are all undone; we have not even attained to the external righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, and how shall we attain to that righteousness of the heart which Jesus demands? The Sermon on the Mount, rightly interpreted, then, makes man a seeker after some divine means of salvation by which entrance into the Kingdom can be obtained. Even Moses was too high for us; but before this higher law of Jesus who shall stand without being condemned? The Sermon on the Mount, like all the rest of the New Testament, really leads a man straight to the foot of the Cross.

J.Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism | Image source: Lightstock

Jesus’ authority engenders terror in the merely religious

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Not everyone recognizes Jesus’ authority; others sense the power but do not respond with faith. Even some who naturally belong to the kingdom, that is, the Jews who had lived under the old covenant and had been the heirs of the promises, turn out to be rejected. They too approach the great hall of the messianic banquet, lit up with a thousand lamps in joyous festivity; but they are refused admission, they are thrown outside into the blackness of night, “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (8:12). The idea is not that there will be no Jews at the messianic banquet. After all, the patriarchs themselves are Jews, and all of Jesus’ earliest followers were Jews. But Jesus insists that there is no automatic advantage to being a Jew. As he later says to those of his own race, “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit” (21:43). An individual’s faith, his or her response to the authority claims of Jesus, will prove decisive. The alternative to entrance into the kingdom is painted in horrible colors: literally the weeping and the gnashing of teeth, to emphasize the horror of the scene, the former suggesting suffering and the latter despair. The same authority of Jesus that proves such a great comfort to the eyes of faith now engenders terror in the merely religious.

This is not a teaching that is very acceptable to vast numbers in western Christendom today. It flies in the face of the great god Pluralism who holds much more of our allegiance than we are prone to admit. The test for religious validity in this environment is no longer truth but sincerity—as if sincerity were a virtue even when the beliefs underlying it are entirely mistaken.

D.A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World, 166 (photo: iStock)

Links I like

Love people, not evangelism

Why study shadows when we have the Son?

David Murray:

Why study shadows when we have the Son? That’s a question I’m often asked when I’m trying to promote more reading of the Old Testament. The question is usually focused specifically upon typology. Why study the types when we have the anti-type? It’s a valid question and if there is no satisfactory answer then the Old Testament, or large parts of it, are going to continue to gather dust. But I believe there is a satisfactory answer, six answers in fact.

A day in the life of a storm trooper

This is pretty amazing.

Are We Really Held Guilty for the Sin of Another?

Michael Patton:

The concept of Original Sin has long been a vital part of Christian Orthodoxy, yet is being challenged and redefined by many in the Church today. Some are beginning to question the validity of the traditional Evangelical understanding of the doctrine asking questions of its legitimacy in its current understanding. Most particularly, the doctrine of imputation is being questioned. This is quit understandable. In fact, I would venture to guess that the concepts housed in this doctrine can seem to produce a vital assault on our conscious, rendering any concept of divine justice impotent.

Let us back up a bit . . .

The Thing That Will Bring You The Most Freedom Today

Josh Blount:

What’s the most freeing thing you could possible do today?

That question could conjure up all sorts of associations in your mind. You might think of freedom fromsomething: oppression, fear, anxiety, challenging relationships, or difficult circumstances. You might think of freedom to something: to do what you want, live as you want to live, go where you want to go. Since “freedom” is such a broad concept, I’ll narrow the question down even more:

What frees you to be who you’re meant to be – today?

A Faith That Fights

Aimee Byrd:

Christians are disciples, and therefore by definition, we are disciplined. Hebrews 12:11, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it,” is couched in an exhortation not to grow weary under the discipline of our loving Father. By using the illustration of a Grecian Olympic fighter, the preacher to the Hebrews teaches us that part of our discipline in the Christian life is conditioning. We need practice.