From Death to Life: How Joshua Gives Us Resurrection Hope in the Midst of Loss

photo-1416958672086-951aa7064010 2Moses was dead to begin with.
— Joshua 1:1 —

Marley was dead to begin with.
— Charles Dickens —

When Charles Dickens wrote the opening line to A Christmas Carol, he touched off one of the most wonderful Christmas stories ever told. Marley, the miserly associate of Ebenezer Scrooge, was dead and now all eyes turned to his living partner. Though the story begins in the darkness of Scrooge’s heart, by the end the light of Christmas opens the heart of this old sinner.

Something similar occurs when we read the opening line of Joshua. The titanic figure of Moses, the servant of Yahweh—the prophet, priest, and leader of Israel; the one who led Israel out of Egypt, received the Law, and stood before the wrath of God to seek Israel’s pardon—this incredible Moses was gone. Now, all eyes were set on Joshua, Moses’s Spirit-filled associate. Would he be able to lead the people into the light of the Promised Land?

Strikingly, both A Christmas Carol and Joshua are comedies. Meaning, that both find resolution and good cheer by the end of the book. In Dickens’ case, Scrooge is “converted” through the three Christmas spirits. In Joshua’s case, the Spirit of God is promised to Moses’s successor, such that Joshua’s glory, by the end of his life, is arguably greater than that of Moses. While Moses brought Israel out of the land, he died in the wilderness because of his sin. But Joshua, who contributed to Israel’s flight from Egypt, added to his credentials the successful deliverance of Israel into the land. Continue reading

The Word of God Made Possible: What the Reformation Teaches Us About Reading the Bible

kiwihug-L4gw27XZN1I-unsplashFrom the time of Moses until now, God’s people have always been a people of the Book. At times, such Word-centeredness has been lost, as in the Late Medieval period or the Modernist era, but in its healthiest moments the church has prioritized God’s Word and has been blessed as a result.

Today, as we celebrate the Word made flesh at Christmas, and as we make plans for reading the Word in the New Year, it is good to remember why and how we read should Scripture. And so, taking a few notes from our Protestant forebears, we can see how their commitment to God’s Word brought revival to the hearts of those who read Scripture and reformation to the churches who committed themselves to applying God’s Word to every aspect of life.

In what follows, I offer nine quotations from five Protestant Reformers: Martin Luther, Phillip Melanchton, John Calvin, Thomas Cranmer, and Heinrich Bullinger. These quotations come from Mark Thompson’s illuminating chapter on the Reformers view of Scripture in Reformation Theology (RT). May the wise counsel of Luther, Calvin, and others be an encouragement to you, as you pick up the Word of God and read. Continue reading

Putting First Things First in the Study of Last Things: Or, How to Find Eschatological Unity in Church

robert-bye-6PLB5SKWiIY-unsplashEschatology, by its etymology, is “the study (logos) of last things (eschatos).” Yet, when we let the Bible, instead of the Bible dictionary, define eschatology, we find a different priority and wider application than just fixing our attention on the end of time. As G. K. Beale helpfully reminds us, “The apostles understood eschatology not merely as futurology but as a mindset for understanding the present within the climaxing connection of redemptive history” (in Making All Things New: Inaugurated Eschatology for the Life of the Church, 4).

In other words, as I tell my theology students, eschatology begins in the beginning of the Bible and carries the storyline until the end. As Isaiah 46:9 says, God was planning the “final things (eschatos) before they happen” (LXX). And thus in Genesis 1–2, the setting (Eden), the commission (subdue and rule), and the command (be fruitful and multiply) are all realities that point to the end or goal of creation. Just compare Genesis 1–2 with Revelation 21–22.

As we know all too well, the First Adam failed in his duties, and set the stage for a long history of redemption. Into that history God spoke promises that would come to fulfillment at the end of time. And as most evangelical scholars agree, the end of time (i.e., the latter days) broke into the present in Christ’s death and resurrection. Accordingly, we who follow Christ, as well as those who currently reject him, live in a time between the times—the end has come, but the end is still coming. This is sometimes called the “already” and “not yet.”

Eschatology, therefore, is not just a study of what is going to happen in the future. As the New Testament shows again and again, the future has already begun (see Acts 2:17; Heb. 1:2; 9:26; 1 Pet. 1:20). At the same time, not all the promises of God have reached the final consummation, and so we await our blessed hope in the return of Christ and labor in his vineyard until he comes. And part of that labor includes studying the Word of God and understanding what eschatology is and is not. Yet, the study of eschatology often produces more heat than light, and local churches are often perplexed by how to best unite over the varied interpretations of the rapture, the millennium, the future of Israel, etc. What are we to do? Continue reading

Kill the Dragon, Get the Girl: A Short Introduction to the Bible

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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 3:15 —

In one sentence, can you give the message of the Bible? 

A few years ago, Dane Ortlund asked this question and received answers from a host of pastors and scholars, but one answer stood out from the rest and has taken on a life of its own. The answer comes from the provocateur, poet, and pastor, Douglas Wilson. He writes,

Scripture tells us the story of how a Garden is transformed into a Garden City, but only after a dragon had turned that Garden into a howling wilderness, a haunt of owls and jackals, which lasted until an appointed warrior came to slay the dragon, giving up his life in the process, but with his blood effecting the transformation of the wilderness into the Garden City.

In short: Kill the Dragon, Get the Girl. Whereby the Dragon is the Twisted Serpent of the Garden, the Girl is the Bride of Christ described as a glorious Garden City in Revelation 21–22, and the Slayer of the Dragon is the Son of God who took on flesh to come and save his damsel in distress by destroying the Dragon by means of his own death and resurrection. 

In his recent book, The Serpent and the Serpent SlayerAndy Naselli recounts the genesis of this pithy way to describe the biblical storyline, which comes from Joe Rigney’s appropriation of Wilson’s explanation of the Bible, which in turn led to the children’s book by the same title: Kill the Dragon, Get the Girl. Continue reading

The Royal Priesthood and the Glory of God: Book Announcement

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If the Lord wills . . .
— James 4:15a —

James 4:13–16 reminds us that the future is in the Lord’s hands, not our own. But that doesn’t mean we can’t plan or set dates. It just means we do so with a strong sense of the Lord’s sovereignty, not our own. With that in mind, I mention the following date: February 8, 2022.

At present, Crossway is set to publish my book, The Royal Priesthood and the Glory of God, on that date. As of today, you can read the first chapter online. And you can get a sense of the book in the following chapter outline.

Introduction: Recovering the Glory of the Royal Priesthood

Chapter 1: In the Beginning: The Royal Priesthood Patterned
Chapter 2: The Law: The Levitical Priesthood Legislated
Chapter 3: The Prophets: The Priesthood Promised, Compromised, and Promised Again
Chapter 4: The Writings: The Royal Priesthood Anticipated
Chapter 5: The Gospels: The Royal Priesthood Arrives
Chapter 6: Acts through Revelation: The Royal Priesthood Multiplies

Epilogue: Royal Priesthood Yesterday, Today, and Forever

That’s the outline of my book which adds to the Short Studies in Biblical Theology series, a collection of accessible studies that trace various themes (like covenants, marriage, work) through Scripture. If you are looking to grow in your knowledge of the Bible and how various strands tie together in Christ, any of these short books would be edifying. For me, the theme of priesthood has been a blessing to study over the last decade, and I am delighted to share my findings with others.

On the book itself, here’s what a few friends and professors have said in their endorsements. You can read all the endorsements here.

“With the recent surge in biblical-theological studies, especially thematic developments across the canon, it is a little surprising that the theme of priesthood has not received more attention. David Schrock’s work fills this gap beautifully! Specifically, this book probes the significance of the priesthood for a precise understanding of the gospel, as well as our own calling as royal priests through Jesus. Essential reading on this major biblical theme!”
Nicholas G. Piotrowski, President and Academic Dean, Indianapolis Theological Seminary

“The biblical teaching on the priesthood seems foreign and forbidding to many readers today. David Schrock helps us see how a theology of the priesthood permeates the storyline of the Bible and how the priesthood climaxes in Christ and finds its fulfillment in him.”
Thomas R. Schreiner, James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

In all, my book is just under 200 pages. It encapsulates a lot of the teaching I have done on the priesthood over the last ten years, but it also offers a few new lines of argument that are fresh to the body of literature on the priesthood. More importantly, however, this book is written for the church and I pray it will bless pastors, teachers, and faithful students of the Bible to see with greater clarity the glory of God witnessed in the royal priesthood.

If you are interested in this subject, the priesthood of Christ, biblical theology, or what it means to be a royal priest made in the image of God, this book will be of interest. May it will bless all you who read it. And if you want to pre-order it, you can now do so at Crossway, Amazon, or even Target.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Getting Off the Gospel Blimp: A Plea to Believe God’s Gospel Method

Somewhere in seminary I was introduced to The Gospel Blimp (1967), a made-for-television adaptation of Joseph Bayly’s book by the same name (circa 1950s). For those who do not know Joseph Bayly, he was a Christian editor, author, and satirist that would make the brothers at the Babylon Bee proud. And I lead with his classic film, not because it possessed the best acting or cinematography, but because of its important warning: The works man cannot accomplish the works of God. 

More specifically, the book lampoons the way Christians, especially evangelicals, employ all kinds of gimmicks in order to preach the gospel. Yet, such gimmicks, Jesus junk, and revivalist tactics actual deny the power of the gospel and the wisdom of God that they claim to believe.

What is the wisdom of God? What is a demonstration of God’s power? How should we herald God’s truth?

According to Paul the wisdom of God is found in the preaching of the gospel (1 Corinthians 1-2) and the gathering of the church (Ephesians 3). In other words, the most effective ways for evangelism are not the schemes and strategies of men, nor are they the “God showed me” ideas of eager Christians. Instead, God’s strategy is laid down in Scripture. God’s plan is simple: disciples making disciples, by means of the regular preaching of the Word, the sharing of the gospel, prayer, and suffering.

Historically, this approach to limiting ministry to the regular means of grace has been referred to as the regulative principle. The regulative principle of worship affirms the all-sufficient wisdom of God’s Word and seeks to practice only what is commanded in Scripture. By contrast, the normative principle of worship has granted more freedom of expression, whatever Scripture does not forbid is thereby permitted.

Obviously, these are principles for church worship are derived from Scripture; they are not absolute mandates found in Scripture. That said, they provide a helpful rubric for thinking about what we do in church and what we don’t. So to help understand these principles, let me offer a few definitions and then return to the main point—that we should avoid gospel gimmicks and stick to the simple wisdom proclaiming the Word and gathering the people. Continue reading

Monergism in Acts(ion): Seven Texts That Affirm The Priority of God’s Grace

crashing waves

. . . I am sending you, to open their eyes,
so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God,
that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
— Acts 26:17–18 —

When it comes to the doctrine of salvation (soteriology), monergism is doctrine that says God alone accomplishes salvation. Etymologically, the word means one (mono) energy (energos), and suggests that all the power for salvation comes from the triune God. Monergism stands against any form of cooperation in salvation whereby God’s work is joined with or completed by man.

Historically, monergism stands upon the writings of Augustine, Calvin, and others in the Reformed tradition. But more importantly, those writings stand upon the words of Scripture. Recently, as I read through the book of Acts, this doctrine stood out, in thinking about the way Luke often spoke of salvation and attributed the faith of believers to the antecedent work of God. In other words, Luke makes it apparent, salvation comes by faith and repentance, but faith and repentance come from the grace of God. (I also spent time laboring this point in my last two sermons on Romans 3 and Colossians 1–2).

In Acts, we find at least seven instances where Luke stresses God’s singular work in salvation. And for the sake of understanding this doctrine and our experience of salvation, not to mention its impact on evangelism and missions, we should see how the pattern of God’s monergism runs through the book of Acts. Continue reading

The Righteousness of God Revealed: A Sermon for Social Justice (Romans 3:21–31)

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The Righteousness of God Revealed: A Sermon for Social Justice (Romans 3:21–31)

No justice, no peace.

Know justice, know peace.

For the last few years, the theme of justice has filled city streets, social media posts, and more than a few church pulpits. Yet, for all the attention given to social justice, there remains an insufficient understanding of this precious virtue.

In Scripture, the God of justice, the righteous God of Israel, displays his justice in ways beyond the sending of prophets to decry Israel’s sin. Yes, the Old Testament has numerous prophets condemning Israel for their sins of injustice and idolatry. Just read Isaiah 5 or Amos 5. Yet, the prophets’ main message centers on the coming messiah and the justice, make that the justification, that he will bring (1 Pet. 1:10–12).

Indeed, justice apart from justification is a pronouncement of law without gospel. Not surprisingly, a world that does not know the grace of the gospel will call for justice based upon their fallen understandings of law. For Christians, however, when we speak of justice, we must begin with God and follow his Word until it brings us to Christ’s cross. For on the cross, we see justice and justification. And from Paul’s careful attention to God’s righteousness in Romans 3:21–31 we see what justice truly looks like.

In this sermon, I outline seven truths about God’s justice and justification. Of all the sermons I have preached touching on social justice, this is the one I would recommend to anyone inclined to chase social justice causes. You can also find an entire sermon series on the subject here.

In any case, when it comes to the contemporary cries for justice, we must continue to go back to Scripture to learn what justice is and what it isn’t. Hopefully, these sermons can help.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Thou Shalt Not (Believe) Lie(s): Faithfulness in an Age of Fake News

people holding a poster asking about facts on coronavirus

Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy,
and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread.
— Isaiah 8:12 —

In our church, one of our elders often reminds us that Isaiah 8:12 is a verse that neither confirms nor denies the presence of a conspiracy. In our world there are many reports that are fake news, and because of that there are many who also discount true news. By the same token, there are reports that some label conspiracies that turn out to be true. And conversely, there are “true” reports that turn out to be false. In short, since the world fell by believing Satan’s Primordial Lie—“you can be like God”—we have lived in a world of lies, half-truths, conspiracies, and fake news. And in that world, the people of the truth must learn not just how to tell the truth (Exod. 20:16), but how to spot a lie.

In the original context of Isaiah 8:12, the Lord has told Isaiah to “fear God, not human armies” (G. V. Smith, Isaiah 1–39, 220). In the historical context, God has promised to preserve Judah, even if the king has foolishly rejected God’s help. In that context, the Lord says,

Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. 13 But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. 14 And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15 And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.” (Isaiah 8:12–15)

In Isaiah 8, the particular sin is fearing man (i.e., human armies) instead of fearing God. But the enduring principle is fearing God according to what God has said. Again, in this case, God has promised a way of salvation, and Isaiah is calling the people to trust him and not human armies. In another context, however, fearing God might mean something else. In the case of Habakkuk, fearing God meant submitting to the coming destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon. In the case of Jeremiah, fearing God meant surrendering to Babylon and not fighting God’s instrument of judgment, as strange as it was to do so. Accordingly, the command to fear God does not always have the same application for God’s people.

Put this all together, and it is a foolish principle to fear God and never recognize or resist the threat of bad actors. Moreover, it is a foolish principle to read Isaiah 8:12 and conclude that everything that people call conspiracy is errant. History teaches us that rulers plot evil schemes (i.e., conspiracies) and that nations conspire together to accomplish wicked ends. Even more, sacred history—the history found in Scripture—teaches the same thing.

Echoing the first sin, the number of times that God’s people have been lied to—by their leaders, by their neighbors, by their prophets, and by themselves—cannot be counted with both hands. While the law of God can be numbered on our fingertips, and digit number 9 stands for “Do not bear false witness,” the number of times God’s people have believed false witnesses is too numerous to count. And thus, we should learn from Scripture how God’s people have believed lies and become liars, so that we who walk in the truth would not believe lies. Continue reading

In Defense of Tradition: Five Reasons Protestants Should Not Protest The *Proper Use* of Tradition

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In yesterday’s blogpost, I outlined a doctrine of Scripture’s sufficiency, arranging Kevin Vanhoozer’s articulation of sufficiency into a fourfold taxonomy—sufficiency caricatured (i.e., what sufficiency is not), sufficiency simpliciter, material sufficiency, and formal sufficiency. The last of these is the most debated, because it gets wades into the intersection of Scripture, tradition, and interpretation, as well as the insufficiency of human knowledge. While Scripture is sufficient for all that it promises to do, we are insufficient in ourselves to understand the Word of God.

But this is the point that Vanhoozer addresses with respect to formal sufficiency. Instead of solving the problem of our insufficiency with a church authorized interpretation (i.e., the Roman Catholic magisterium) or a personally authorized experience of God and his Word, Vanhoozer presses us back to the Scripture with the all-sufficient aid of the Spirit. In this articulation of formal sufficiency, Vanhoozer addresses the ministerial role of tradition. And it is this proper use of tradition that I want to outline here.

In his book, The Drama of Doctrine, Kevin Vanhoozer gives six reasons for accepting and applying tradition, when done under the greater authority of Scripture. In other words, the tradition that Protestants seek is not written with a capital ‘T’. It is not put on the same level as Scripture, but as children of God who have come to life by the Spirit and the Bride (Rev. 22:17), we need the teaching of the church, along with the creeds and confessions that help articulate biblical truth. Similarly, we need to rightly understand the role of tradition and avoid wrong uses and absolute dependence on human institutions. However, affirming the fact that the church is not a mere human institution, but the body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit, we can and should seek to benefit from the church universal and the church local.

With that positive approach to the church in view, I want to share five of Vanhoozer’s six ways that tradition can and should be applied in the life of the believer and the life of the church. Again, you can find these points outlined in Vanhoozer’s, The Drama of Doctrine. Continue reading