Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Book Review: D.A. Carson- The Cross and Christian Ministry

91680: The Cross and Christian Ministry The Cross and Christian Ministry
By D.A. Carson / Baker

What can a first-century view of the cross teach us about Christian leadership? Plenty, says this respected New Testament scholar. In his thorough exposition of 1 Corinthians, Carson explores factionalism, servant-leadership, shaping "world" Christians, and other issues to help you gain a better understanding of what the death of Christ means in ministering to God's people. 144 pages, softcover from Baker.

When I pick up a book by D.A. Carson my expectations are always high. He has consistently written books whose combination of scholarly insight and practical application are of the highest quality. This book is no exception. This is not a new title from Dr. Carson, it was written (or at least copyrighted) in 1993. I probably would never have read it but I received a free copy when I attended the 2012 Together for the Gospel conference in Louisville. I wish I had read it a long time ago. 

 Carson examines five different elements related to Christian leadership and the implications of the Cross of Christ regarding them. The wonderful thing about this book, however, is that it is not simply a good book that deals with these issues on a topical level. There are many Christian books that make wonderful and Biblical points but do not demonstrate the methodology by which their conclusions were derived. Some others give glimpses of their methods of interpreting but do so only through short or varied passages. That is not the case with this book. Although the book is dealing with application to a particular topic it does so though a sustained exegesis of Biblical passages. He is not pulling out verses, rather he is working through complete teaching segments from 1 Corinthians. The five topics are therefore derived from Paul’s argument rather than using parts of Paul’s argument to supplement his own. The sections are as follows: 

 1) The Cross and Preaching: 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5 
2) The Cross and the Holy Spirit: 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 
3) The Cross and Factionalism: 1 Corinthians 3 
4) The Cross and Christian Leadership: 1 Corinthians 4 
5) The Cross and the World Christian: 1 Corinthians 9:19-27 

 In each of these sections Carson walks the reader through the implications of Paul’s timeless argument for the Church in our day. At the end of each section he includes a handful of questions that draw the reader to examination and reflection on the Biblical text. The questions are basic who, what, when, where, how, and why questions that allow the reader to trace Carson’s use of the text to develop each of his main points. The organization of the book, and its brevity make it a great resource for those who are looking for a study guide on Christian leadership or ministry. I found the chapter on Christian leadership to be particularly insightful and helpful. 

 This is an excellent book. It is exegetical in its approach, clear in its presentation, well organized, and practical in its applications. As usual, Dr. Carson demonstrates a keen ability to make insightful observations in the text and draw out their significance in a way that is instructive and encouraging. It was the best book I have read in quite some time. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Was Eve Created Because Adam Was Lonely?

Quite often our summaries of the creation story make it sound as though Eve was created because Adam was lonely. The common telling is that Adam was naming all the animals and realized that all of them had companions (male and female) but none were suitable companions for him. This made Adam sad and lonely. Then God recognizing Adam’s loneliness put him to sleep, took his rib, and fashioned Eve.

The summary above sounds plausible because it contains a number of true elements but it is an oversimplification that unfortunately makes it seem as though the creation of Eve was merely a response to Adam’s needs. As we will see, this is an unhelpful summary of the events that misses some key points in the narrative.

There are certain truths that this kind of summary calls attention to. It is true that the Bible teaches that Eve was made for Adam (1 Cor. 11:8). She was to be a companion and helper to him (Gen. 2:18). None of the previously created animals would be suitable (Gen. 2:20). Adam was very happy to see her and his language “at last” indicates that he was, in fact, waiting for such a companion (Gen. 2:23).

None of this, however, demonstrates that Eve’s creation was primarily a response to Adam’s desire for a companion. I do not doubt that Adam came to desire such a companion but that God is responding to a desire that initiated within Adam is unlikely based upon what the Bible actually says.

In the first creation account in the first chapter of Genesis we see that on the sixth day God creates livestock, creeping things, and beasts of the earth.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”        
(Genesis 1:26-28 ESV)

First, notice that both Adam and Eve were created on the same day. In his unfallen state it is doubtful that Adam could have experienced loneliness in the way we do. Even if he could Adam would only have been lonely for one day and it was not a day of sitting around reflecting upon his situation. God kept Adam busy on that day. The more detailed account of the creation in the second chapter of Genesis explains that

Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field…
(Genesis 2:19-20 ESV)

Some have argued that this cannot be understood to be a literal day because there is no way that Adam could name all of the animals in one day. While the chronology of the early chapters of Genesis is hotly debated and can become somewhat complex I would like to just point out two things that may be relevant to this criticism. First, the text does not say that Adam named every single creature on the planet. He gave names to the livestock, the birds, and to the beasts of the field. The authority or “naming rights” are clearly his and are not limited to this one day where he apparently names the creatures that were in the garden. Second, we need to remember that Adam did not have a fallen mind and so we do not know what kind of capacity he had for such work.

If we pay close attention to the passage we will notice that Adam’s desires do not drive God’s activity in creating Eve. The passage above is enclosed in an envelope structure. Verse 18 says,

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”

This is followed by the passage above where Adam names the animals and concludes in verse 20 with,

…But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.

The naming of the animals is framed within these “bookends” where God declares that it is not good for man to be alone and then the confirmation that he is indeed alone. There are a lot of things going on in this text but for our purposes we can see that Adam is unique among the creatures and he is given dominion (implied by the naming rights). Of course he does become aware of his lack of a companion through this process. Verse 18 is the first mention in the scripture that it is not good for man to be alone and it comes not from Adam but from the mouth of God. This is prior to any record of Adam looking at the animals and coming to any conclusions about his singular position.

Adam says nothing about loneliness to God. We do not know if he felt lonely prior to God organizing the parade of animals or not. It is clear that God intended to create Eve before the naming of the animals because He says back in verse 18 “I will make him a helper fit for him.” In displaying the animals God brings Adam to recognize there is none who are suitable to be his helper. The creation of woman was part of the original perfect plan of creation. Adam was to be fruitful and multiply as commanded by God and by marching the animals before Him God is showing Adam the reason for the upcoming (already planned) special act of creation and preparing him for the very intimate culmination of His creative activity. The flow of the narrative is not that Adam looked around, didn’t find anyone to keep him company, expressed his loneliness and then God intervened to correct the situation. Instead, we see God working through the process of granting dominion to Adam, bringing him to understand his uniqueness and thus the uniqueness and the significance of the wife that will be provided.

After Adam has reviewed the animals it seems that Adam has become aware of his uniqueness and that there was no other like him. All of this sets up the final and most intimate act of initial creation.

So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. (Genesis 2:21-22 ESV)

Unlike all of the other creatures who have been created from dirt the woman is taken from the side of the man. She does not come out of man in the sense of springing forth but is taken from a living and vital part of the man. No two of any other creatures shares this kind of intimate connection. God then brings the woman to man and he names her. Her name recognizes the profound connection between the two.

Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.
(Genesis 2:23 ESV)

The phrase “This at last” does have the sense of “finally… what I have been waiting for” which may be the reason why so much emphasis seems to be put on Adam’s being lonely and desiring to have a companion. Certainly, we can imagine him wondering if a suitable companion was going to be found as he worked through the naming of the animals. Eve was not, however, the result of God reacting to a desire or request from Adam. Rather, God prepared the man and allowed him to participate in an intimate way in the final creative act that ultimately served as a blessing to him.

The scripture says that Christ is the lamb slain before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8). This means that even before Adam and Eve were created God was acting with sin and redemption in mind. Through Eve will come the savior (Gen. 3:15). The savior will save for Himself a people (1 Pet. 2:9). It then follows that the relationship of Christ to His church should be in view even as we read the early chapters of Genesis (Eph. 1:3-5). We therefore need to realize that even this first marriage between Adam and Eve is intended to represent the profound mystery of the union of Christ and His Church (Eph. 5:32).

Eve was not created just because Adam was lonely. She is an important part of God’s plan of creation as well as His plan of redemption. Adam certainly came to understand that there was no suitable companion for him among the animals but it was God who brings about the circumstances where he comes to see this. We should be careful not to minimize her importance by only thinking of her in terms of Adam’s loneliness.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Book Review: Mark Dever- The Church: The Gospel Made Visible

The Church: The Gospel Made Visible
By Mark Dever / B&H Academic
677762: The Church: The Gospel Made Visible
What are Christians supposed to believe? How should we live out the gospel? Followers often debate these basic questions. What can we make of such differences? In this primer on the sufficiency of Scripture, Dever shows how God's Word guides us in assembling for corporate worship, teaches us about life and doctrine, and more. 224 pages, softcover from B&H.

Many Christians, though they may regularly participate in the ministry of the Church, never really take the time to think through what exactly the Church is or how it should function. In the midst of the cultural assault on both the Bible and the Gospel many believers are happy just to find anyplace where they can go and hear biblical teaching. Denominational distinctives and differences in how various churches handle membership, discipline, and decision making have seemingly begun to fade into the background. Of course, as soon as there is some kind of issue to be resolved all of those various distinctives come into play in a very practical way. In this book Mark Dever calls our attention to the biblical teaching regarding the nature and function of the Church and how it is related to the Gospel itself.

The book is divided into three parts, each of which has chapters that are focused on a specific element of the study of the Church (ecclesiology).

Part 1: What Does the Bible Say?
1.      The Nature of the Church
2.      The Attributes of the Church, One, Holy, Universal, Apostolic
3.      The Marks of the Church
4.      The Membership of the Church
5.      The Polity of the Church
6.      The Discipline of the Church
7.      The Purpose of the Church
8.      The Hope of the Church

Part 2: What Has the Church Believed?
9.      The History of the Idea of the Church
10.  The History of the Ordinances of the Church
11.  The History of the Organization of the Church

Part 3: How Does it All Fit Together?
12.  A Protestant Church: Putting Together the Marks of the Church
13.  A Gathered Church: Putting Together the Membership of the Church
14.  A Congregational Church: Putting Together the Structure of the Church
15.  A Baptist Church: Should We Have Baptist Churches Today?
16.  Conclusion: Why Does This Matter?

Dever’s passion for the topic is apparent as you read this book. It is a serious examination of the topics involved but Dever writes with a pastor’s heart. He is writing from a Baptist perspective but his explanations of the differences in church organization and why they exist is handled in an effective and fair way. He seeks to honor the unity of the Church proper while recognizing the importance of denominational and local churches as individual and distinct gatherings of believers.

The book is well argued and well documented. Even when I had a slightly different view than what he was arguing for I found myself compelled by his explanations to think and study the issues more carefully. I especially appreciated his analysis of the texts used to support congregationalism and his emphasis on the inseparable relationship between Christ, the Gospel, and the Church. From a practical perspective the chapter on why there should be Baptist churches today and why the doctrine of the Church matters were timely and well done.

Dever’s skillful handling of the biblical teaching and the historical sources leads to a substantial but accessible overview of one of the most important yet sadly neglected doctrines in the Bible. He reminds us that The Church is not just a functional category but it is an integral part of God’s plan of salvation. The book is well argued and yet is not overly technical. It is a good overview of the biblical teaching on the nature and function of the Church. It may be particularly helpful to those who are curious about the differences between and reasons for the various types of church organization such as episcopal, presbyterian, congregational, etc. I recommend it to anyone with an interest in the doctrine of The Church and to every Christian who has never thought about it before.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Practical Theology

What do you think of when you hear the word “theology”? Unfortunately for many people the word conjures up visions quite removed from their daily life. It is often assumed to be a word more closely associated with a library than a living room, a classroom rather than a workplace, and ideas rather than people. The truth of the matter though is that in the Christian life one cannot separate the knowledge we have of God and our practical everyday walk. As we consider the inexhaustible wisdom of God’s revelation of Himself in His Word we are drawn to think more deeply upon Him. The result is not impractical or academic but rather calls attention to the majesty and greatness of God and His Word. Unfortunately most Christians neglect a disciplined study of the things of God and prefer a more devotional and experiential approach. Often this is accompanied by the assumption that theological study is unnecessary for the average person and is the calling of only a small subset of people within the Church.

Sadly, this sets up a false separation between growing in knowledge and living the Christian life as if the two were not interdependent. The result is that many people are deprived of a deeper interaction with God and a strengthened confidence in the truth of the Bible as objective and unchanging truth. By learning about God and His truth we come to know the Lord in a more intimate way.

Theology (the study of what is true about God) need not be stiff, academic, or detached. I read two great articles today at the housewife theologian website that address the need for women in particular to be engaged in theological study. These articles, How Well Do YouReally Know the Person You Love and Reflections on Women and Theology do a wonderful job of calling attention to an important issue in the Church today. Disciplined Bible study and theological reflection should be encouraged for all Christians regardless of their demographics. The Bible does not categorize us based upon our demographic or market segments. These are just a couple of a number of articles over there that not only deal with important topics but are also great examples of how to communicate theological truth in a balanced, practical, and accessible way. 

I encourage you to read them.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Acts 12:21-23 & The Eyes of The Flesh

Our Lord is continually working through the events of our lives and those around us to bring about His purposes. It is one of the great privileges of being His children that we are granted the ability to see the world around us through the eyes of faith. We stand upon His promise that all things work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose and so we trust in His providential care.

Of course throughout the history of the world our Lord has also intervened in such dramatic fashion that even those who are not believers have taken notice. The obvious examples are the dramatic deliverance of the Hebrew’s from Egypt, the miraculous conquest of Canaan, the humiliation of the priests of Baal by the prophet Elijah, and of course the miracles and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Sadly, rather than submit themselves to God those who are hardened in sin will deny the significance of such events even when the events themselves are undeniable. Indeed, they almost must do this in order to continue to deny the glory of God that is manifested around them. As an extreme example we recall the Pharisees who attributed the great signs done by Christ as having been performed through the power of Beelzebul. They could not deny the power of the miracles so they suppressed the inevitable conclusion that they pointed to. They therefore blasphemed against the Holy Spirit.

Not every example of this is as dramatic as that of the Pharisees but there are some others that stand out in my mind. Ever since I was an undergraduate working on my history degree I have been struck by a particular occurrence of God’s judgment that was recorded both in the Bible and by the ancient Jewish historian Josephus. Luke records this event in the life of Herod Agrippa when God judged him publicly for his arrogance.

On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.
(Acts 12:21-23 ESV)

In his book The Antiquities of the Jews, written around 94 A.D., the ancient historian Josephus writes the following non Biblical description of the same event (emphasis added).

“Now when Agrippa had reigned three years over all Judea, he came to the city Cesarea, which was formerly called Strato's Tower; and there he exhibited shows in honor of Caesar, upon his being informed that there was a certain festival celebrated to make vows for his safety. At which festival a great multitude was gotten together of the principal persons, and such as were of dignity through his province. On the second day of which shows he put on a garment made wholly of silver, and of a contexture truly wonderful, and came into the theater early in the morning; at which time the silver of his garment being illuminated by the fresh reflection of the sun's rays upon it, shone out after a surprising manner, and was so resplendent as to spread a horror over those that looked intently upon him; and presently his flatterers cried out, one from one place, and another from another, (though not for his good,) that he was a god; and they added, "Be thou merciful to us; for although we have hitherto reverenced thee only as a man, yet shall we henceforth own thee as superior to mortal nature." Upon this the king did neither rebuke them, nor reject their impious flattery. But as he presently afterward looked up, he saw an owl sitting on a certain rope over his head, and immediately understood that this bird was the messenger of ill tidings, as it had once been the messenger of good tidings to him; and fell into the deepest sorrow. A severe pain also arose in his belly, and began in a most violent manner. He therefore looked upon his friends, and said, "I, whom you call a god, am commanded presently to depart this life; while Providence thus reproves the lying words you just now said to me; and I, who was by you called immortal, am immediately to be hurried away by death. But I am bound to accept of what Providence allots, as it pleases God; for we have by no means lived ill, but in a splendid and happy manner." When he said this, his pain was become violent. Accordingly he was carried into the palace, and the rumor went abroad every where, that he would certainly die in a little time. But the multitude presently sat in sackcloth, with their wives and children, after the law of their country, and besought God for the king's recovery. All places were also full of mourning and lamentation. Now the king rested in a high chamber, and as he saw them below lying prostrate on the ground, he could not himself forbear weeping. And when he had been quite worn out by the pain in his belly for five days, he departed this life, being in the fifty-fourth year of his age, and in the seventh year of his reign… “
(Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews. Book 19, chapter 8, translated by William Whiston)

When I first read this account as a young Christian studying history I rejoiced that there was such a clear confirmation of the historical accuracy of the New Testament. As I have grown in my faith, however, I no longer primarily think of this in an apologetic context. Now when I reflect upon this record by Josephus I am mostly struck and saddened by the hardness of men’s hearts that they could witness such an event and so profoundly miss its significance. How could everyone there not fall down on their face in repentance after seeing this? How could this not trigger a tremendous revival? Of course, the Bible gives us the answer to these questions. Sin separates us from God and clouds all of our vision. Our every experience and interpretation apart from Him is in some sense a selfish form of denial. What a privilege it is that through our savior Jesus Christ we have been given His Spirit so that we may see through the eyes of faith! Let us pray that by His grace we do not miss all that He does to glorify His name in our lives even now so we may praise Him in all things.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Bible Study Tips: Trace the Jesus Themes

Most of the Bible study tips that I have shared so far have been singularly focused on specific texts. Today, however, I want to share a study technique that has a much broader scope. I am a big supporter of methodical inductive study but it is also important that book or passage studies are done within the broader context of a wholly Biblical theology. The Scripture is a unified body of teaching that is interconnected and interdependent. The unifying theme of the entire Bible is Jesus Christ and what He has done. When looking at only smaller units of the Bible it is easy in certain places to miss those important connections that bind the Scripture together. I pray that this tip will help you to gain a deeper and richer appreciation for those connections.

It should be obvious to any reader that the New Testament is saturated with references to the Old Testament. Virtually every major teaching segment in the New Testament either directly quotes from or is alluding to some or other Old Testament passage. Looking these up is itself a useful thing to do (and I will probably write on this in the future) but there is also a rich set of Biblical themes that are not direct quotations or commentary but are a very important connection between the testaments. Recognizing those themes and tracing them can lead to all sorts of really rich observations about both the New Testament and the older writings. There are various ways to apply this technique but by far the most productive and valuable is to focus on the person and work of Jesus Christ directly. Let me explain how it works.

The first thing to do is to choose a New Testament passage and then begin to look for figurative uses of language related to Jesus Christ. You want to find some description of Christ by a New Testament author that is not a direct factual statement about Him, such as that He is the Messiah, but one that is clearly important but cannot be completely understood literally. For example; in the first chapter of John we see that “in Him (Jesus) was life, and the life was the light of men.” John goes on to repeatedly emphasize the identification of Jesus Christ in his introduction with The Light. Clearly John is not saying that Jesus Christ is a series of wave packets of energy that stimulate our optic nerves. It is clear that light is functioning in some sort of figurative sense.

The next step is to look at how the theme of light is developed throughout the particular book. In this case, John talks quite a bit about “light” in relation to Jesus. What does he say? How does he develop that theme? Once you have looked at that, the next step is to begin in the Old Testament by analyzing the occurrences of the word “light”. You have to be very careful at this point because not every occurrence will be relevant to your study. You must carefully study the context and the way the figurative term is developed in its New Testament passage. Then look at the contexts of the Old Testament uses to identify parallels that link the references thematically. Below are a few examples of verses you will find in O.T. when looking for occurrences of “light” and how you might handle them.

1.      Genesis 1:4 says “And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.” This is a reference to literal light so it is contextually different and would not be considered part of the thematic trajectory that is picked up by John. You would move on to the next reference.

2.      2 Samuel 23:4 says “he dawns on them like the morning light, like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning, like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth.” At first glance this sounds like it has potential because it seems to be talking about light as a life giving element. The problem, however, is that this is a reference to a king who rules in the fear of God. Of course, Jesus is a perfect king so there may be a potential connection but more work would have to be done to know for sure. For example, is it a prophetic passage? We know that Christ is the son of David so other themes may be intertwined. In this case I would make a note to come back and study this further and move on to the next reference.

3.      Psalm 36:9 says “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.” Notice here that light and life are both connected just as we saw in John. If you look at the context of this Psalm you will notice that it is about God’s steadfast love. The light here is connected to spiritual life and relationship with God. This is a match! You then want to look carefully at the point made in the Psalm about the light of God. Meditate upon the relationship between what is revealed there and what John is saying about who Jesus Christ is.

4.      Isaiah 9:2 says “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” This is another match. Isaiah is using light in a figurative way to refer to spiritual awakening and discernment. This is also clearly a prophetic text that is fulfilled in the coming of Jesus Christ. What is the promise of Isaiah? What is John’s claim about Jesus in relation to that promise? Work through the connections by reading and meditating upon them. You will be blessed by how many things in the text the Holy Spirit will bring to your attention as the connections begin to click.

There are many other Old Testament references that develop the theme of light that we could have looked at but my hope is that these 4 give you a good start on how it works. If you begin to trace this use of light to refer to spiritual vision and discernment you can observe how it develops throughout the O.T. until the theme finally culminates in Jesus. The last step then is to see what other New Testament writers have said about Christ and light when used in similar contexts.

If you study these thematic “threads” as they run through the Bible I am confident it will deepen your appreciation of the unity of Scripture and of the majesty of our Lord.

Thankfully, the New Testament in general, and the Gospels in particular are quite rich with this kind of language in relation to Jesus so it isn’t hard to find places to start. In fact, with just a quick reading of the Gospel of John as I prepared to write this article, I found at least 15 potential references that could be traced. I am sure there even more if you look closely! Just for starters, in John’s Gospel alone, Jesus is described as:

  • The Word of God
  • The Light of God
  • The Lamb of God
  • The Son of Man
  • The Temple of God
  • The Serpent Lifted up
  • The Bridegroom
  • Living Water (or at least the source of it)
  • The Prophet who was to come
  • The Bread of Life
  • The Door of the Sheep
  • The Good Shepherd
  • He Who Comes
  • The True Vine
  • The King

Each of these descriptions is developed to some degree in John’s Gospel and they are all references that build on themes that are found throughout the Bible.

I pray that the Lord would bless your study.