A Sincere and Pure Devotion to Christ: Why the Sufficiency of Scripture Means Rejecting Secular Sociology

aaron-burden-9zsHNt5OpqE-unsplashBut I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.
— 2 Corinthians 11:3–4 —

In his book, Doctrine of the Atonementnineteenth century evangelist and pastor James Haldane wrote about the ways Scottish churches fused biblical doctrine with modern philosophy. In his opening chapter, he makes a case for a pure and undiluted biblical orthodoxy, over against those who unite Scripture with philosophy. He writes,

True philosophy consists in our sitting at the feet of Jesus, and receiving the truth as He has been pleased to reveal it. The Scriptures teach us, that the understanding of fallen man is darkened, and that the Holy Spirit alone can illuminate its inmost recesses with the light of truth. (22)

Though written more than 150 years ago, Haldane’s words still ring true. In his day, various Enlightenment philosophies, especially those arguing for morality sans biblical revelation, were infiltrating the church. As an evangelist, he saw thousands come to Christ who had received instruction in their churches on morality, but had not on Christianity. And in response, Haldane exposed the errors of combining biblical Christianity with worldly philosophies, a pastoral practice we should continue today.

Sociology Can Be a Vain Philosophy

In our day, the fusion of truth and error is equally pernicious, but perhaps more difficult to discern. For, instead of seeing a fusion of Christianity and Enlightenment philosophy, which we have been trained to observe and reject, it is more often the case that we see the fusion of Christianity and sociology. Sociology has become a leading assistant in churches today who are employing diversity training and all other forms of cultural awareness. Continue reading

On Reading Genesis: Four Approaches with Many Resources

close up photo of bible

January 1, 2021. 

With the new year comes the chance to begin a new Bible reading plan (or to continue your reading plan from last year). If the new year leads you to Genesis, as the Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan does, you might be looking for some resources to aid in your reading—especially, if your plan does not give you a day-by-day, play-by-play. To that end I am sharing four reading strategies, with some helpful resources to listen and read. Be sure to read to the end, as some of the most helpful resources come at the end. Continue reading

Reading for Scripture Saturation in 2021: (Re)Introducing the Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan

Jesus washing the feet of Saint Peter on Maundy Thursday

How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.
10  With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!
11  I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
12  Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes!
— Psalm 119:9–12 —

With 2020 ending and 2021 approaching, you may be thinking about how to read the Bible in the new year. I hope so. The Word of God is not a trifle; it is our very life (Deut. 32:47). Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4). With that in mind, we should aim to read the Bible and to read it often!

Truly, the Bible is not a book to read once, or even once a year. It is meant to be imbibed and inhabited, adored and adorned, studied and savored. Mastery of the Bible does not mean comprehensive understanding of Scripture; it means ever-increasing submission to the Master who speaks in Scripture. This is why in the closing days of the year, it’s good to consider how we can saturate ourselves with Scripture in the next year.

Personally though, I wonder if our daily reading plans help us with this idea of Scripture saturation. Often, such plans call for reading single chapters from various parts of the Bible. And the daily routine can invite checking the box without understanding the book. So my question has been: does such reading help us or hinder us in our Bible reading? Continue reading

Weighing Obedience and Resistance: What Romans 13 Does and Does Not Affirm about Governing Authorities

tingey-injury-law-firm-DZpc4UY8ZtY-unsplashIn his commentary on Romans, Colin Kruse observes that in Romans 13 “Paul is drawing upon teaching in Jewish literature about God’s sovereignty over the rise and fall of earthly rulers” (Paul’s Letter to the Romans, 493). Supporting that claim, he lists a handful of key passages from the Old Testament, the Jewish Apocrypha, and Josephus. Here’s his list.

By me kings reign and rulers issue decrees that are just; by me princes govern, and nobles—all who rule on earth. (Prov 8:15–16)

In the Lord’s hand the king’s heart is a stream of water that he channels toward all who please him. (Prov 21:1)

With my great power and outstretched arm I made the earth and its people and the animals that are on it, and I give it to anyone I please. Now I will give all your countries into the hands of my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; I will make even the wild animals subject to him. All nations will serve him and his son and his grandson until the time for his land comes; then many nations and great kings will subjugate him. (Jer 27:5–7)

He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. (Dan 2:21)

The Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes. (Dan 4:17, 25, 32)

For your dominion was given you from the Lord, and your sovereignty from the Most High; he will search out your works and inquire into your plans. (Wis 6:3)

The government of the earth is in the hand of the Lord, and over it he will raise up the right leader for the time. (Sir 10:4)

He will for ever keep faith with all men, especially with the powers that be, since no ruler attains his office save by the will of God. (Josephus, Jewish Wars 2.140)

Standing upon this biblical worldview is important not only for understanding Paul’s argument in Romans 13, but also for understanding its limits. In other words, as Paul commands believers to willingly submit to governing authorities (Rom. 13:1, 4), he does not mean that governing authorities have absolute autonomy or unchecked authority. As Romans 13:4 says, they are “God’s servants,” hence subject to God himself. And it’s this point of reference—the relationship between governing authorities and God—that we need consider more fully.

Far too many have a simplistic, even child-like, understanding of Romans 13. And if the church is going to survive our post-modern, post-Christian world, we need to think more carefully (read: more biblically) about Romans 13. Continue reading

Thinking Wisely about Sickness and Disease: A Biblical and Pastoral Response to COVID by Brian Tabb

ambulance architecture building business

In preparation for Sunday School this week, I have been reading various articles and books on COVID-19 and how churches should think about the pandemic and respond to it. This week I will try to share a few of these resources that I have found helpful.

The first article to mention is Brian Tabb’s “Theological Reflection on the Pandemic.” In his article, he surveys what Scripture says about sickness. And most importantly he draws the connection between sickness and sin. Eschewing a mechanical connection between sin and sickness, i.e., that sickness is always a result of sin, he rightly avoids the other error—that sickness has nothing to do with sin. He writes,

Thus, the Scriptures do not present disease as morally neutral or “indifferent” like the philosophers.9 Rather, disease and other causes of pain and suffering are part of this broken world infected with sin, and these terrors have no place in the new creation, when God will roll back the curse, wipe away every tear, and make all things new (Rev 21:4–4; 22:3; cf. Isa 25:8). (p. 3) Continue reading

A Heart for Excellence: Thinking Biblically about Skill in Singing

sven-read-4yZGWYCul-w-unsplashSing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.
— Psalm 33:3 —

They were all under the direction of their father in the music in the house of the Lord with cymbals, harps, and lyres for the service of the house of God. Asaph, Jeduthun, and Heman were under the order of the king. 7 The number of them along with their brothers, who were trained in singing to the Lord, all who were skillful, was 288.
— 1 Chronicles 25:6–7 —

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
— 1 Corinthians 10:31 —

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
— 1 Corinthians 12:7 —

Music is a gift from God. And in the church, those gifted in song are given by Christ to build up his body. To that end, those who lead the church in song should serve with true faith, pure hearts, and skilled hands. For various reasons, the combination of head, heart, and hands is not always easy. But it is something we should pray for and work towards

To that end, I offer the following eight points on the place of skill in song. These eight points summarize a larger article on the biblical necessity of excellence in music. (You can read that article here: True Worship Includes a Heart for Excellence.) Let me know what you think of these eight points, and/or what you would add or improve. Continue reading

Reading Mark 13 in Context: Seeing 16 Connections between Jesus’s Olivet Discourse and His Death and Ascension

robert-bye-6PLB5SKWiIY-unsplashI saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
— Daniel 7:13–14 —

On Sunday, I preached a message on Daniel 7:13–14, how it is understood by the New Testament authors and why Christ’s ascension is such good news for us today. You can listen to the sermon here. And if you do, you will find that the longest part of the message is located in Mark 13–14.

The reason for that long meditation is that Mark cites Jesus referencing Daniel 7:13–14 in two places. First, answering his disciples’ question about the destruction of the temple and when these things will be (Mark 13:1–2), Jesus says, “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory” (Mark 13:26). Second, after his arrest, Jesus is  interrogated by the high priest. In response to a question of his identity, Jesus again references Daniel 7, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:62)

Following the lead of Daniel itself, I interpreted these two passages as a reference to Jesus’s ascension in relationship to his impending crucifixion. Instead of reading these references of the clouds to something still future or his second coming from heaven to earth, I recalled the original meaning of Daniel 7:13–14 and explained how Jesus is speaking about his ascension and entrance into heaven.

As you might expect, this led to some questions. In our community group that followed Sunday’s sermon, there were more than a few questions about this reading, as it stands in contrast to more popular readings of Mark 13 and its parallel accounts in Matthew 24–25 and Luke 21. In what follows, I will restrict my focus to Mark and try to explain how we might read his Gospel with greater attention to his own words and the meaning of Jesus’s words in Mark 13. By paying attention to the literary connections between Mark 13 and Mark 14–15 (#4 below), I believe we can see how Jesus is preparing his disciples and Mark is preparing his readers for understanding a heavenly perspective on Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension, with (perhaps) ongoing implications for the destruction of the temple in AD 70.

Continue reading

A Neglected but Necessary Doctrine: How Christ’s Ascension Clarifies Our Theology and Comforts Our Souls

clouds and blue sky

And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
— Acts 1:9–11 —

   He ascended to heaven
      and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
— The Apostles Creed — 

In Acts 1:9–11 Luke reports the ascension of Jesus from earth to heaven. This event has been a staple in orthodox confessions, as listed in the Apostle’s Creed, but it has also been spiritualized by some (like Origen and Rudolph Bultmann) and overlooked by others (too many to count!). But what about you, how do you think about the ascension?

Do you think about it all? Does it form your theology (especially your eschatology), or do you skip from Christ’s resurrection to his return? What about your daily life, how does ascension bring the good news of heaven to your earthly struggles? If the ascension is absent in your thoughts, you are missing a chief way that we know and experience the presence of Christ. For that reason, we need to go back and see what Scripture says about this  vital doctrine. Continue reading

When The Son of Man Comes Around: A Sermon on Daniel 7

daniel05Who is in control?

This is a question germane to every area of life—personal, parental, political, etc. And as we know all to well, when wicked people are in control, the people under their ‘care’ suffer! Just consider a couple proverbs related to kings and their citizens:

When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan. (Proverbs 29:2)

Like a roaring lion or a charging bear is a wicked ruler over a poor people. (Proverbs 28:15)

Because of the profound impact rulers can play on a nation, we can make politics the most important part of life. And while not denying its importance (see here), Daniel 7 teaches us that there is only one true ruler, and he alone will receive a kingdom that never ends. Indeed, until he reigns, the nations and their leaders are beasts by comparison.

With this in mind, Daniel 7, the pinnacle chapter in the book of Daniel, teaches us how to think about who is in control. The vision of Daniel brings us to the throne of God and to the Ancient of Days who decides who rules on the earth.  More than that it gives us a picture of God’s rule over the nations and the fact that the Son of Man has authority to judge all flesh (see John 17:2).

These are themes found in this week’s sermon, “When the Son of Man Comes Around.” You can watch the sermon here. Other sermons in this series can be found here.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

How Did You See That? A Case for Scripture Saturation

david-travis-aVvZJC0ynBQ-unsplashSometimes in a class or after a sermon, someone will ask? How did you see that, which is shorthand for saying: How did you make the connection from Joshua’s baptism to that of Jesus? Or, Daniel in the Lion’s Den to Jesus’s death and resurrection? 

Many times the answer is: Well, I read it. I heard another teacher preach it. Or, a commentary made the connection. Other times, however, I must say: Well, I just remembered it—from reading the Bible last year, this week, or, even sometimes, ten years ago. This latter answer leads the point of this post. 

Good preachers don’t just know and use the good commentaries. They have good biblical instincts; instincts that come from reading, re-reading, studying, discussing, and sitting under God’s Word. Certainly, this means reading good books, but it also means reading the Good Book. A. LOT.

In seminary, this approach to Scripture was given the term: Scripture Saturation. This term comes from David Prince, who in answering this same question said plainly that such connections are found not by reading commentaries, but by saturating yourself with Scripture. No commentary. he argued and I am repeating, can replace the reading of the Bible, for often it is only through Scripture Saturation that various connections are made. Often, it pleases the Spirit to reveal things to us, only as we read the Bible.

Today, this question surfaced again in an online Simeon Trust workshop on Ecclesiastes. In this session, Ryan Bishop showed a connection between Ecclesiastes 8:14–17 and Isaiah 55:8–9. The question came up: How did you see that? And the answer was not that Alec Motyer or Barry Webb showed it to me, but “I remembered it from a sermon I heard a year or so ago?”

That’s how it works: By reading, re-reading, studying, discussing, meditating, stewing over, and sitting under the Word, we become saturated with God’s Truth. And then, with hearts full of the Bible, it comes to mind as we read other portions of Scripture, or prepare a message, or share the gospel with a friend. Many times, the Spirit begins to bring to life connections that we would not see in any other way.

Indeed, commentaries are helpful, even necessary for arriving at a faithful understanding of the Bible. They are typically written by men and women who are saturated with Scripture. But more than reading books about the Bible, reading Scripture again and again is the best way to understand the Bible and to see its contents.

I call this the “parable principle.” God often reveals his biblical truth only through repeated readings. At the same time, he conceals his truth from those who think a singular reading of the Bible will disclose all that Scripture has to say. Such a reality makes reading the Bible imperative and exhilarating, as we continue to see how the whole Bible fits together. Moreover, this principle explains why seasoned preachers will see things that younger teachers do not. Conversely, those who read the Bible as a unified whole (even if young) will be more prepared to see the connections in Scripture before those who read verses and books as isolated compartments in the Bible (even if older).

In practice, sometimes we only see things after we’ve read them a few dozen or a few hundred times. That’s not because they weren’t there in the text from the beginning. Rather, such progressive understanding comes from our minds being renewed by more and more of the Bible. Indeed, just as the apostles were identified because they had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13); the same is true for disciples today.  

For this reason, we should give ourselves to reading the Bible and reading the Bible a lot. While preachers can and should certainly focus their devotional reading to their current sermon series. It is also important to read from the whole Bible and to do so regularly. Earlier this year, I outlined a way of reading Scripture that focuses on such saturation.

If interested, you can find the outline here. And if you have kept up with this blog you may see some of the ways I have been reading Scripture this year. And others may notice how I’ve failed to live up to the promise of providing content each month. I do apologize. I’m reading, but haven’t kept up writing. Lord willing there will be more coming. 

Fortunately, the best part about a Bible reading plan is reading the Bible. So brothers and sisters, keep reading God’s Word. Keep delighting in what you find there. Don’t aim to check off a box or get through a plan. Feed yourself on God’s Word and watch how the world of the Bible opens up and reveals to you the glory of God in the face of Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds