Archive - August, 2007

Great Commentary Sale at WTS Books

Up to 55% off on commentaries like The Gospel According to John (Pillar NT) by D.A. Carson.
(HT: Challies)

David Dockery on Christian Higher Education

Christianity Today interviews David Dockery, President of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Dockery is the co-editor of two books on Christian higher education (Shaping a Christian Worldview: The Foundation of Christian Higher Education and The Future of Christian Higher Education), and has now written his own book on the subject called Renewing Minds: Serving Church and Society through Christian Higher Education. The latter will be available in October from Holman Academic. Here’s a sample question and answer:
CT: One of the significant divides in terms of conceiving the Christian university is between the “two spheres” model that aims to provide an excellent secular education in a Christian environment and the integrationist model that aims at distinctively Christian education. You endorse the latter. Why?
Dockery: A two-sphere model recognizes the place of chapel, campus ministry, mission trip opportunities, and residence-life Bible studies. This model sees a place for faith on one side of the campus and learning on the other. This model can be achieved with parachurch ministries on secular campuses. I do not believe this model represents the best of Christ-centered higher education nor do I think it represents the best of the Christian intellectual tradition through the years.
Read the whole thing.
(HT: JT)

Albert Mohler on Mother Teresa

Dr. Mohler weighs in on the recent revelations of Mother Teresa’s spiritual struggle by David van Biema in this week’s Time Magazine cover story. Dr. Mohler’s reflections appear in the On Faith forum (a conversation on religion) co-sponsored by the Washington Post and Newsweek magazine. His main points are:

1. We ought to trust Christ, not our feelings.
2. Doubt can be healthy. It can drive believers to a deeper knowledge and embrace of the Gospel. Alternatively, doubt can be a form of sin . . . a refusal to trust God and his promises. Doubt can thus be at the root of spiritual depression.
3. The heart of the Christian gospel is that salvation comes by grace through faith alone. Not faith in our ability to maintain faith, but faith in Christ. Though there is an emotional aspect to the Christian faith, our faith is not ultimately anchored in our feelings but in the facts of the Gospel.

Dr. Mohler expresses concern, “that part of Mother Teresa’s struggle was that she did not consider herself worthy of salvation. ”
Read Dr. Mohler’s summary or his entire article.

The Blogworld Conference – November 8-9, 2007

Hugh Hewitt talked about this today. The Blog World and New Media Expo (in Las Vegas, NV) is:

“The first and only industry-wide tradeshow, conference, and media event dedicated to promoting the dynamic industry of blogging and new media. In addition to the only industry-wide exhibition, BlogWorld will feature the largest blogging conference in the world including more than 50 seminars, panel discussions and keynotes from iconic personalities on the leading-edge of online technology and internet-savvy business.”

The conference is apparently for bloggers of all types. The program organizers say, “If you blog about business, technology, politics, sports, lifestyle & culture, general news items, or celebrity gossip, If you are a Milblogger, or Godblogger, or advocate a social position you need to be at BlogWorld & New Media Expo.”
I found these blogging statistics to be interesting:
* Over 12 million American adults currently maintain a blog.
* More than 147 million Americans use the Internet.
* Over 57 million Americans read blogs (that’s almost 40%).
* 1.7 million American adults list making money as one of the reasons they blog.
* 89% of companies surveyed say they think blogs will be more important in the next five years.
* 9% of internet users say they have created blogs .
* 6% of the entire US adult population has created a blog .
* Technorati is currently tracking over 70 million blogs .
* Over 120 thousand blogs are created every day .
* There are over 1.4 million new blog posts every day .
* 22 of the 100 most popular websites in the world are blogs .
* 120,000 new blogs are created every day .
* 37% of blog readers began reading blogs in 2005 or 2006.
* 51% of blog readers shop online.
* Blog readers average 23 hours online each week. (But do we read our Bibles?)
My two-cents worth: Though much of the blogosphere can be ugly, blogging can be a great way to reflect on significant issues/events, to bless others, and to grow as a writer. Blogging can promote engaging discussion and the solidification of personal convictions on a range of issues. But it also presents the dangers of aimless time-wasting (and its inevitable corollary: failure to read the Bible and pray), narcissism (who is saying what about ME today? how many people are visiting MY blog?), and writing mean things which one would never say to someone face-to-face. For those who blog, I would commend these suggestions from Abraham Piper on blog reading and blog writing.
Update: The GodBlogCon Conference this year is being held in conjunction with the Blogworld & New media Expo. (HT: Ted Slater)

Reading Classics Together Via The Blogosphere

Tim Challies has initiated (another) great idea: Using blogdom as a vehicle for accountability in reading through some of the classic Christian books. The first book selected is Holiness, by J.C. Ryle, which is absolutely fantastic. If you’ve never read it, you might consider checking out Tim’s plan and perhaps joining in.

Adam’s disobedience and Jesus Christ’s obedience

John Piper’s sermon on Rom. 5:12-21, entitled The Fatal Disobedience of Adam and the Triumphant Obedience of Christ, is now available. Excerpt:

“I want us to focus on the glory of Christ as the main purpose that God had in mind when he planned for and permitted Adam’s sin, and with him the fall of all humanity into sin. Remember what I said last week: Whatever God permits, he permits for a reason. And his reasons are always infinitely wise and purposeful. He did not have to let the Fall happen. He could have stopped it, just like he could have stopped the fall of Satan (as we saw last week). The fact that he did not stop it means he has a reason, a purpose for it. And he doesn’t make up his plans as he goes along. What he knows to be wise, he has always known to be wise. Therefore, Adam’s sin and the fall of the human race with him into sin and misery did not take God off guard and is part of his overarching plan to display the fullness of the glory of Jesus Christ.”

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales Resigns

Howard Schneider writes:

“Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales has resigned from his post, according to an administration official, ending a controversial cabinet tenure that included clashes with Congress over the firing of nine U.S. attorneys and over the use of warrantless wiretaps in the war on terror.
The official said Gonzales told President Bush of his decision on Friday, but the announcement was withheld until he met with Bush at the president’s Crawford ranch. His resignation will be announced at a press conference scheduled for 10:30 today.”

(HT: Denny Burk)

Nancy Pearcey and Total Truth

As I prepare to teach a course entitled Engineering from a Christian Worldview, I am increasingly impressed with the writing of Nancy Pearcey. Nancy Pearcey is a homeschooling mother who has authored two award-winning books on Christian worldview: How Now Shall We Live? (with Charles Colson) and Total Truth.
Nancy Pearcey has posted articles on topics such as evolution, preparing homeschoolers, and intelligent design. I found these three articles to be helpful introductions to the clear thinking and lucid argumentation which her books also exemplify.

Salvation to the Ends of the Earth

While we’re on the missions theme, I want to highlight an interesting book that traces the foundational principles of world missions back to their Old Testament roots. Salvation to the Ends of the Earth by Andreas J. Kostenberger and Peter T. O’Brien was written to show that God’s saving purposes for the entire world originated not at the Great Commission but at the very beginning of God’s creation. From what I know of these authors, I imagine this book represents a helpful addition to mission literature. Zioneer writes:

“From the original intent of creation, the significance of Abraham’s call, the purpose of Israel as a nation of priests, the monumental covenant made with David, the grand and sweeping eschatological visions of the writing prophets; to the predominantly Jewish ministry of Christ on earth, his forecast of universal expansion following his death, and the actual outworking of that forecast in Christian history, as his disciples, empowered by the Holy Spirit, began to turn the world upside down for the sake of the Name – in short, from beginning to end of divine revelation, a thrilling picture of worldwide, salvific import begins to emerge, with a unity and complexity that is as staggering as it is beautiful.”

Review of Let the Nations Be Glad!

Though the second edition first appeared in 2003, Let the Nations Be Glad! by John Piper continues to be an important book for any Christian who takes the Great Commission seriously. The book is neatly divided into three section, all of which deal with the theme of making God supreme in missions:
Part I — The Purpose, the Power, and the Price
Chapter 1 argues that worship is the ultimate goal of the church, not missions. Missions exists because there are millions all over the world who do not worship. In addition to being the goal of missions, worship is also the fuel of missions. Those who do not cherish the true God cannot commend Him to others with sincerity. Non-Christians would rightly observe the hypocrisy of those who pronounce bold claims (such as “all must trust in Jesus Christ to be saved”) but themselves have little love for the Savior.
Piper then argues that God’s main desire is to glorify and enjoy Himself forever. He unfolds a dizzying array of biblical texts which make this argument (Eph. 1:4-6, 12, 14; Isa. 43:6-7, 49:3; Jer. 13:11; Ps. 106:7-8; Rom. 9:17; Exod. 14:4, 18; and Ezek. 20:14 to name a few). His point is that if the glory of God is God’s main passion, then it should be ours as well. Indeed, the infinite horrors of hell are a vivid demonstration of the infinite value of God’s gory.
Piper responds to the criticism that self-exaltation on God’s part cannot be love. It is love because (a) love seeks its own joy in the joy of others, and man’s greatest happiness is found in the exaltation of God; and (b) God must exalt that which is infinitely glorious (i.e., Himself). For God to do otherwise would be idolatry. So while any creature except God becomes an idolater via self-exaltation, God would be an idolater if He did not exalt Himself. The unifying principle is don’t exalt in something that is non-God. Being satisfied with all that God is for us in Christ glories God, therefore God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. Piper’s theology on this is succinctly captured in a few words from John Dawson, which Piper quotes:

“Humanity does not deserve the love of God any more than you or I do. We should never be Christian humanists, taking Jesus to poor sinful people, reducing Jesus to some kind of product that will better their lot. People deserve to be damned, but Jesus, the suffering Lamb of God, deserves the reward of His suffering.”

Chapter 2 deals with the strategic importance of prayer in the work of missions. There is a battle underway for the soul of every man and woman on planet Earth. So life is war, and believers should strip their lives from excessive, soul-depleting luxuries in order to most strategically give their energy, time and money to the mission of Christ to win a people for Himself from every tribe and language and people and nation (see II Tim 2:3-6 and Rev. 5:9-10). Prayer recognizes that confidence for missions comes from accepting the sovereignty of God, who in His word has guaranteed that Christ would receive the reward of His sacrifice. Prayer often malfunctions, however, because “we try to turn a wartime walkie-talkie into a domestic intercom.” We treat God as a genie-in-a-bottle to secure our comforts rather than a commander in a battlefield who commands our allegiance and cares more for the cause than we do. God has not promised a life of ease.
As important as prayer is, prayer is not itself the work of mission. The preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ delineated in the Bible to those who have no remnant of believers in their people group — that is the work of missions. Nevertheless, while God has made “the accomplishment of his [saving] purposes hang on the preaching of the Word,” he has also “made the success of that preaching hang on prayer.”
Chapter 3 is about the role of suffering in making God supreme in missions. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matt. 13:34). The point is that the extent of sacrifice (selling all that he has) and the depth of his joy display how much value he assigns to the treasure of God (which is salvation). And if we treasure it for ourselves, why wouldn’t we give sacrificially so that others can treasure it also? I Peter 2:20-21 shows that Christ died both as a substitutionary sacrifice and as a pattern for us–that we might follow in His steps. (Note: Elsewhere Piper has argued that Col 1:24 refers to bringing the saving message of Christ’s suffering to the nations via our own suffering.) Piper lists six reasons why God appoints suffering for his servants:
1. Suffering deepens faith and holiness.
2. Suffering makes our cup increase.
3. Suffering is the price of making others bold.
4. Suffering fills up what is lacking in Christ’s affliction (Col. 1:24).
5. Suffering enforces the missionary command to go.
6. The supremacy of Christ is manifest in suffering.
Sacrificing our all for the salvation of others is not ultimate self-denial. Rather, it is the foregoing of a lesser good for a greater good. Which is why famous missionaries have often said at the end of their lives, “I never made a sacrifice.”
Part II. The Necessity and Nature of the Task
Chapter 4 is an outstanding argument against inclusivism (the idea that salvation can be procured any way other than by conscious faith in Jesus Christ). Piper carefully and biblically argues that not only is Jesus Christ man’s only hope, but that eternal, conscious torment awaits those who do not believe in him. (He references a plethora of books that assess the recent departures from the historic Christian belief in hell as eternal conscious torment of the ungodly, including Hell Under Fire, edited by Robert Peterson and California Baptist University professor Chris Morgan). Piper notes:

“Are there devout people in religions other than Christianity who humbly rely on the grace of a God whom they know only through nature or non-Christian religious experience? No…..the focus of faith has been narrowed down to one man, Jesus Christ, the fulfillment and guarantee of all redemption and all sacrifices and all prophecies. It is to his honor that henceforth all saving faith shall be directed to him.”

His chapter gives affirmative answers to three crucial questions (all emphases Piper’s):
1. Will anyone experience eternal conscious torment under God’s wrath?
2. Is the work of Christ the necessary means provided by God for eternal salvation?
3. Is it necessary for people to hear of Christ in order to be eternally saved?
The author also argues that giving a negative answer to any of the three questions would seem to cut a nerve of urgency in the missionary cause. In this chapter Piper interacts with writers ranging from George MacDonald (a universalist) to respected evangelicals such as Millard Erickson. There is also a detailed rebuttal of John Stott, who (at least at the time) held to annihilationism (the view that God annihilates the ungodly, rather than condemning them to eternal conscious torment in hell). Stott’s view is that annihilationism is consistent with the Scriptures, since the ungodly eternally perish (John 3:16). Piper shows that many texts, however, are more naturally translated as referring to eternal, conscious torment.
Lastly, passages such as Eph. 3:4-10, Rom. 16:25-27, and Acts 17:30-31 are used to argue that hearing the gospel is in fact necessary. Piper also deals with the case of God-fearing Cornelius, arguing that he was not saved prior to hearing and embracing the gospel proclaimed by Peter (Acts 10:1-11:18).
Chapter 5 answers the question: “How do we decide what the task of missions is, or even if there should be such a thing as missions?” Intriguingly, Piper argues that “God’s call for missions in Scripture cannot be defined in terms of crossing cultures to maximize the total number of individuals saved. Rather, God’s will for missions is that every people group be reached with the testimony of Christ and that a people be called out for his name from all the nations.”
Piper takes the word “nation” as referring to an ethnic (or people) group that may or may not have political dimensions. Much of the chapter is an analysis of the Greek word “ethnos” to substantiate this interpretation. Patrick Johnstone (Operation World) and David Barrett define a people group as a “distinct homogeneous ethnic or racial group within a single country, speaking its own language (one single mother tongue).” (So a large people group spread across multiple countries is counted multiple times by this definition.) Another ambiguity comes into play when one considers that often times different groupings of people are able to read the same Bible translation.
The point is that God intends for their to be diversity in His kingdom. Several passages in Revelation show that this has been His design all along (Rev. 5:9, 7:9-10, 14:6-7, 15:4, 21:3).
Part III. The Practical Outworking of Compassion and Worship
In a relatively brief chapter 6, Piper traces the roots of his high view of God back to Jonathan Edwards. Edwards painstakingly showed the radical God-centeredness of God. The problem in the world is that the glory of God is not honored by mankind. Worship, on the other hand, is “right affections in the heart toward God, rooted in right thoughts in the head about God, becoming visible in right actions of the body reflecting God.”
Edwards wanted to honor God and rescue people from hell. Piper explores Edwards’ thought on the relationship between our passion for the supremacy of God and our compassion for perishing sinners. These motives must be held in tension, says Piper, because they do not always feel emotionally compatible. Five principles from Edwards are helpful:
1. Compassion pursues the rescue of perishing sinners.
2. Fear of hell by itself saves nobody.
3. Therefore, compassion must not merely warn people about the pains of going to hell but must also lure people to the pleasures of knowing Christ.
4. It is satisfaction in Christ himself that magnifies Christ and glorifies God.
5. The aim of compassion to rescue sinners from everlasting pain and the aim of passion to see God honored are not in conflict. (Because sinners repenting and treasuring all that God is for them in Christ results in God being honored and sinners escaping damnation.)
Chapter 7 is new in the 2003 edition. Piper wanted to clarify what he meant by “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is.” Specifically, he wanted to clarify what he meant by “worship.” He was not referring to corporate gatherings for worship or (still more limiting) the portion of these gatherings dedicated to singing songs and hymns. Rather, what he means by “worship” is the radically inward experience of treasuring God above all else. Piper shows that, in comparison to the Old Testament, the New Testament “is stunningly silent about the outward forms of worship and radically focused on the inner experience of treasuring God.” The upshot is that we have tremendous freedom regarding the outward forms of worship in the worldwide church, since radical satisfaction in all that God is for us in Christ is the true essence of worship (and what salvation history was pointing to all along). I think Chapter 7 would be very helpful for anyone wrestling with the development of worship services in a missions context where issues of contextualization are paramount.
All in all, Let the Nations Be Glad! is a fantastic book on the global purposes of God. It calls every Christian to marshal their talents and resources to advance the Greatest Cause–the Cause of God Himself, who in Jesus Christ is reconciling lost sinners to Himself. I heartily recommend it.

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