February 25, 2014

Rob Bowman In Discussions with former Mormon Shawn McCraney

Dear Friends of CRandE and Rob Bowman:  Please be in prayer today for Rob and Shawn McCraney. Rob has shared the following update earlier today. The livestream of the program starts at 8pm MST tonight.

From Rob Bowman on his facebook page: 'Tonight (2/25/14), I will be a guest on the TV program "Heart of the Matter," hosted by Shawn McCraney. Shawn is a former Mormon who became a born-again Christian and now leads an informal church in Salt Lake City. Shawn recently did a couple of programs disparaging the doctrine of the Trinity, in response to which I flew out to Salt Lake City yesterday to meet with him. We talked for four hours yesterday and are planning a similar meeting tomorrow. Tonight I am expecting to answer some questions about the doctrine of the Trinity on his live streaming broadcast: http://hotm.tv/. The situation with Shawn is complicated and difficult for a number of reasons. I would appreciate the prayers of my Christian friends for the program tonight and also my personal conversations with Shawn.'

Edwards On The Good Life, by Strachan & Sweeney $2.49 @ CBD

Edwards On The Good Life (Slightly Imperfect Copy), ony $2.49 at CBD.

Jonathan Edwards on the Good Life explores the dimensions of life as God desires. Using Edwards as a guide, Strachan and Sweeney engage such topics as God's original design for mankind, the effects of sin, the transformation of conversion and more.

February 22, 2014

What is Justification? Robert Traill (1642-1716)

Galatians 2:21

"What is justification? We read much of it in our Bible, and the doctrine of it is reckoned one of the fundamental points of the true Christian religion, and so indeed it is. This grand doctrine, the fountain of our peace, and comfort, and salvation, was wonderfully darkened in the Popish kingdom; and the first light of the reformation, that God was pleased to break up in our forefathers' days, was mainly about this great doctrine. 

Justification is not barely the pardon of sin; it is indeed always inseparable from it, the pardon of sin is a fruit of it, or a part of it. Justification is God's acquitting a man, and freeing him from all attainder; it is God's taking off the attainder that the broken law of God lays upon every sinner. Who is he that shall condemn? It is God that justifies, Rom. 8:33. 

Justification and condemnation are opposites; every one is under condemnation that is not justified; and every justified man is freed from condemnation. Justification is not sanctification; it is an old Popish error, sown in the heads of a great many Protestants to think that justification and sanctification are the same. Justification and sanctification are as far different as these two:—There is a man condemned for high treason against the king by the judge; and the same man is sick of a mortal disease and if he dies not by the hands of the hangman today, he may die of his disease tomorrow: it is the work of the physician to cure the disease, but it is an act of mercy from the king that must save him from the attainder. 

Justification is the acquitting and repealing the law-sentence of condemnation; sanctification is the healing of the disease of sin, that will be our bane except Christ be our physician."
--From a sermon by Robert Traill (1642-1716) on Galatians 2:21

February 21, 2014

From the Archives: The Atonement, Its Meaning and Significance by Leon Morris

Originally published in 2009:

I've spent several hours this month with the late Leon Morris. It has been time well spent. You will typically find high recommendations for his scholarly work The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross. For all of the glowing and deserved recommendations, it is written targeting an education level that most of the church never reaches. Like climbing Everest, you need to bring along theological oxygen bottles to survive the rarefied atmosphere. Recognizing the limiting nature of that work for evangelicals in general, Morris set out to bring the hay down out of the loft so we all might ruminate and benefit from his work. He succeeded.

The Atonement, Its Meaning and Significance is a book about the cross for the rest of us. Morris throws biblical light on the death of Messiah using the lamps of covenant, sacrifice, the Day of Atonement, Passover, redemption, reconciliation, propitiation, and justification. Each lamp has a different hue, emphasizing its own aspect of the atonement. Morris is unapologetic about using a broad palette. Only by using a wide range of biblical language can he paint a rich portrait to help us understand and appreciate the length, breadth, and depth of God's solution to mankind's evil and rebellion.

One chapter stands out for me, not for devotional value, but for the devotion Morris shows in pursuing important concepts. I'm thinking specifically of his chapter on propitiation. C.H. Dodd's efforts to empty the New Testament of God's personal wrath has had a deep impact on the church today. Morris brings the scholarly material to bear in a simplified manner and contributes several helpful insights. In doing so, he contemplates the differing semantics of propitiation v. expiation. Morris makes a strong case that our understanding of the atonement is meaningfully diminished if we omit God's righteous indignation. This one chapter is enough to display the profound insights that Morris developed over years of interaction with Dodd's work.

Morris combines a clear writing style with delightful little glimpses of his own personality. I could almost see him shake his head or chuckle a little under his breath. A couple of times his wry sense of humor rises to mock our foolishness. The book is about 200 pages long. It's helpful. I recommend it for your consideration. Following are some morsels served up to whet your appetite.

"The cross is central to Christianity."

"The witness (to a covenant) was not an independent figure who could speak up and testify to the fact and terms of the covenant. The witness was rather something that served to remind the participants of what they had done."

"Every Christian enters the covenant by faith, and here the references to the covenant with Abraham as of continuing force are important. Abraham is the classic example of faith for the New Testament writers and to be involved in the covenant with Abraham means to live by faith as that patriarch did. Not all the descendants of Abraham were caught up in his covenant with God, and Paul specifically makes the point that in the sense that matters Abraham's children are those who believe, whether they are his physical descendants or not, whether they are circumcised or not. And, of course, a consideration of the place of faith in the covenant calls us to consider the reality of our faith. Without faith, there is no membership in the covenant."

"Ancients like me remember that during the years of the Second World War we were frequently called upon to make sacrifices to assist our country. That meant forgoing comfort and pay rises and it involved making do with inferior substitutes instead of insisting on the superior article; on occasion it meant going without something altogether."

"The worshipper laid his hand on the head of the (sacrificial) animal. The Hebrew verb means something like leaning on the animal. It was a firm contact, not a casual touch. The meaning of this is disputed. Some hold that it meant that the worshipper was identifying himself with the offering. If this is the way of it, the action said, 'This is my sacrifice. This is the animal am offering.' It certainly did this at least. But others think that the action was a symbolic transferral of the sins of the worshipper to the animal, so that when it died it was taking the punishment due to the worshipper for his sins. It was being treated as the sins it bore deserved. They hold that this is the obvious symbolism and that it is supported by the fact that in later times at least there are passages which tell us that, as the worshipper laid his hands on the animal, he confessed his sins. It is not easy to see what the laying on of hands means if there is no symbolic transfer to the animal which was to die of the sins being confessed."

"Nobody who came thoughtfully to God by the way of sacrifice could be in any doubt but that sin was a serious matter. It could not be put aside by a light-hearted wave of the hand but required the shedding of blood."

"The term (redemption) as used in the all-pervasive Greek culture of antiquity had its origin in the practices of warfare. When people went to war in ancient times they lacked the refinements of our modern civilization. They had no atom bombs, no poison gas, no germ warfare. But in their own humble way they did what they could to make life uncomfortable for one another. One of the happy little customs was that, when battle was over, the victors sometimes rode around the battlefield rounding up as many of the vanquished as they could. Then they took them off as slaves. It meant a tidy profit and an increase in the spoils of war, though I guess the new slaves did not like it much."

"The two concepts (propitiation and expiation) are really very different. Propitiation means the turning away of anger; expiation is rather the making amends for a wrong. Propitiation is a personal word; one propitiates a person. Expiation is an impersonal word; one expiates a sin or a crime."

"An important idea in the New Testament is that righteousness may be imputed. There are grounds for imputation in an Old Testament passage, that in which we read, 'Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness'. This presents a problem to some modern people, because we so firmly believe that righteousness is an ethical quality. It is 'being good'. In that sense, it is nonsense to talk about righteousness being imputed. Everyone who aspires to this kind of righteousness must merit it for himself, by right living. It cannot be 'credited' or 'reckoned' or 'imputed' to him other than in some fictitious and fanciful sense. But when we see righteousness as basically legal, as 'right-standing', it is another matter. A standing or status can be conferred. The narrative says that God conferred this status on Abraham because of his faith. Paul uses this as his classic example of justification by faith. Abraham received his 'right-standing' not on account of any meritorious action but simply because he trusted God."

February 20, 2014

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Don Whitney, $5.

A classic book on prayer, Bible study, and other exercises for the health of your soul, only $5 at CBD. Whitney is a favorite author. This is great material for a book study, discipleship group, or adult Bible fellowship.

February 15, 2014

The Pregnancy of Biblical Theology, or Biblical Theology's Children

Biblical Theology* is hot these days. Yes, it has always been present in the shadows of the academy, a specialized discipline with ardent devotees, but rarely glimpsed outside the seminaries except in polemic upheavals of Reformed and Dispensational "dialogue", perhaps more aptly named "mud-slinging" in some cases (in more polite company, "speaking past one another"). However, those previous earthquakes appear to have released at least some of the pent-up pressure on theological tectonic plates, allowing a realignment with much less, shall we say, stress, between the camps.

We are now seeing (in the past twenty years or so) exercise of the discipline of Biblical Theology across a broad range of Evangelicalism. What was a trickle of readily available publications openly engaging in Biblical Theology has become a wide river as books flow from the presses with the subtitle "a Biblical Theology". To be fair, "Gospel Centered" owns the titular heavyweight belt for now, but "Biblical Theology" is hungry and training hard to The Eye of the Tiger.

The energy invested by Christian scholars is beginning to pay off, as we now see popular-level books which quite capably introduce the discipline to a much broader audience, such as What is Biblical Theology by Jim Hamilton and According to Plan by Graeme Goldsworthy. Should this pregnant moment continue, it will result in birthing new resources for Bible study unlike many current offerings. These new studies, like the lay-level introductions noted here, will impact everyday believers who would never imagine picking up a thousand-page tome on Biblical Theology proper. And yet, in due time, Biblical Theology will have its day in the sun for every believer in the Son.

A few words about a lot of words

The Bible uses a lot of words. Important words. Words which demand real investment of energy to understand. Today we have ready resources at hand which enable deep study of Biblical words. But words alone, or should I say, words considered alone apart from their context, are insufficient to fully understand what is being said. ["Context, context, context" says the voice inside your head.] Beyond individual words, reading and studying words in their context is absolutely essential to understanding what is meant.

Context must be considered on at least three levels: immediate, epochal, and canonical.  For this article, we will focus solely on the first level, immediate, and demonstrate how to remove some present-day hurdles which obscure this context.  Immediate context itself is also at least a three-level discipline, consisting of how a word is used in its sentence, paragraph, and the entire book (as in the single book of the Bible you are reading). For the modern reader, paragraphs are the fundamental context that simply must be kept in view to avoid skewing or misunderstanding a word within a passage. As more and more books in the evangelical sphere introduce, develop, and expand the practice of Biblical Theology, broader concepts of context will gain traction and eventually take hold.

When sand gets in your eye

What gets in the way for you, dear reader,potentially obscuring context as you read your Bible?  [Sidebar: I assume that you do read your Bible. It's kind of a big deal - pretty much the necessary ingredient of this whole exercise.] Answer: verse numbers. Yup, verse numbers. The verse divisions in your Bible are not inspired. While incredibly useful and necessary for group navigation of the Bible, verse numbers can have a subtle, nearly imperceptible impact on your thinking as you read. If I could draw a word picture (using a picture as well), it would sound (and look) something like this. You begin reading chapter 1, verse 1. All is well with the world. We have subject and verb clauses. Everything is clicking along without a hitch. You reach the end of the verse, and your mind goes...

... so you clamber over the fence and begin playing in this wildly different, other-worldly place called "verse 2".

Ok, a bit of hyperbole, I know. But versification does enable us to consider, write about, discuss, study, and claim all sorts of things based on very tiny segments of What God Has Said. When you take a vacation to enjoy the beach, does that mean you enjoy the beach one single grain of sand at a time? Of course not. Yet, through habit and example, versification has given us permission and even goaded us into picking up each grain of biblical sand in the scenic beachfront panorama painted across the entire Bible.

A Small Eye-Wash Station to Clear Your Vision

What can you do today to supplement your regular daily Bible reading which could help you see context in a larger sense? I'm suggesting, for those of you with smartphones and tablet computers, that you setup a Bible reading program with specific settings which remove the numbering of versification. I use and recommend Olive Tree, and have made the following setup changes for the main window text. Basically, set the background and everything not text to match (in this example - Black).

Which will result in the following appearance. Chapter numbers and added subheadings are still visible, but it will give you a cleaner, more continuous text to read, without the need to climb over verse numbers as the words flow on.

Feedback, Please

Give these settings a try for a few weeks, starting with one of the shorter books in the New Testament. I would love to hear back from you, whether the experience is good or bad. Throw your comments onto this post, or email me.


*Biblical Theology - Not a matter of extracting theology from the Bible (all Christian theologies do this), but rather the practice of looking for the over-arching themes of Scripture and unifying the Bible's message across its various historical contexts.

February 12, 2014

Book Sale: Only One Way for less than a buck

Richard Philips edited collection, Only One Way? Reaffirming the Exclusive Truth Claims of Christianity is available @ CBD for $.99.

"Only One Way? guides us unerringly through the contemporary world of religious pluralism and points us to Jesus Christ alone as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Grasping the central truth that the Christian gospel is unintelligible apart from the uniqueness of Christ, these pages expound it in a variety of insightful ways. Here are six scholars and pastors boldly upholding the only kind of Christianity worthy of the name."
Sinclair B. Ferguson, Senior Minister, First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, South Carolina
"Although religious pluralism is often treated as a 'postmodern' phenomenon, it has always been the world's most fundamental challenge to the gospel. The authors of this thoughtful work press us, as the apostles did, to stand against the world for the world's sake. Only one way? At a time when many evangelicals don't seem so sure, these writers help us to confidently answer yes!"
Michael Horton, J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics, Westminster Seminary California
"There is a battle raging in the world today-it is a battle for truth. And in a day when the god of relativism governs hearts and minds throughout the world, Christians cannot be silent. This timely book calls God's people to action. I am thankful the Lord has raised up faithful men to stand firm and proclaim boldly the truth about God's truth."
Burk Parsons, Copastor, Saint Andrew’s Chapel, Sanford, Florida; Editor, Tabletalk magazine

February 11, 2014

Fred Sanders on the Trinity

 Fred Sanders, Associate Professor, Torrey Honors Institute, Biola University and author of The Deep Things of God, presented several sessions for the EFCA 2014 Theology conference, focusing primarily on the Trinity. The audio and outlines are linked below. 

  • Approaching the Doctrine of the Trinity, pre-conference session (Audio) (Notebook outline)
  • God According to the Gospel, pre-conference session (Audio) (Notebook outline)
  • Tacit Trinitarianism and Q & A, pre-conference session (Audio) (Notebook outline)
  • The Truth and Reality of the Trinity Affects Everything, pre-conference breakout session (Audio)
  • Understanding the Times and Understanding the Places: Theological Localism (Audio) (Notebook outline)

February 8, 2014

Carl Trueman: A Brief History of Trinitarian Thought - John Owen

In my apologetics studies, the Trinity continually surfaces as a critical doctrine, impacting belief and practice in every aspect. Studying the historical background of Christian thought on the Trinity will help you grow in your sense of wonder at the profound nature of the God of Scripture.  Here is an opportunity to be exposed to some of this historical background.

John Owen
John Owen is a very important theologian in the history of the church. In the following link, Historical Theology Prof Carl Trueman explains the impact that Owen has had on understanding the nature of our Triune God. 

Click here to listen to Reformed Forum - Christ the Center

Carl Trueman
Trueman specifically highlights the contribution of Owen to Trinitarian theology and practice with his emphasis on the believer’s communion with each person of the Godhead and Owen’s understanding of the Holy Spirit as the bond of communion and communication between the divine and human natures of the one person of Jesus Christ. Listeners will go away from this episode with a renewed appreciation for the importance of understanding the God of Scripture as Triune.

February 7, 2014

Words of Wisdom

"At every moment, sin is wired to destroy. ...  sin can be far more subtle in its destructive intentions than a slashing claw or crushing jaws. Sin regularly assaults us, though we often fail to notice. Sin knows us well and quietly gnaws away at our faith and affections. We can therefore never be tolerant or open-minded about our sin. We are called to aggressively hate our sin—to despise it, reject it, deplore it, starve it, and make every effort to kill it."

--Hedges, Brian G.; Christ Formed in You (p. 132).

February 1, 2014

A Southern Baptist Hot-Topic Has Become a Boil Fit for Lancing

You can usually count on SBCers to rattle sabers with one another fairly regularly. When it comes to Ergun Caner, the rattle has become a din that is spilling out into the Baptist and Evangelical streets.  See this open
letter by an unaffiliated Baptist pastor calling for the issue to be publicly and openly investigated, reported, and dealt with appropriately considering the actions of both sides of the issue. Most importantly, this controversy extends beyond Brewton-Parker College, the SBC, and even Evangelicalism broadly. This is a matter of the reputation of the church of Christ and thus of Christ Himself.

An Open Letter to SBC Friends