Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Servants of Grace Guest Post: “Gospel Series: Justifcation: Gospel of Peace”

I’m guest posting at Servants of Grace this week. Dave, asked me to choose a topic related to the gospel. I chose justification. It’s a doctrine I love, but one that often gets a bad rap. Some feel like reformed Christians overemphasis it in relation to the gospel. I argue that Paul uses justification as shorthand for the gospel because it connects with the concepts of kingdom, covenant, and peace.
Many evangelical churches truncate the gospel. They focus primarily on the benefits of the gospel for us. They explore the depths of our salvation, but rarely talk about Creation, Fall, or Consummation. Salvation is a crucial act in the gospel story as we explored above but it’s still only one act.

Many theologians have desired to correct this salvation-focused gospel by pointing out the full story of the gospel. But in doing so, many downplay the importance of justification by faith. Some see it as a novel focus of the Church. But justification by faith wasn’t invited during the Reformation. The Reformers were self-conscious about tying the reformed faith to the history of the church, the Church Fathers, and the faith found within the pages of the New Testament.
Read the entire article here.
Mathew Sims is the author of A Household Gospel Fulfilling the Great Commission in Our Homes and has written for CBMW Men’s blog, Gospel-Centered Discipleship, Borrowed Light, and Servants of Grace. He also works as the managing editor at Gospel-Centered Discipleship. They attend Downtown Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Greenville, SC.
Get Your Copy of A Household Gospel Today: Paperback or Digital

Monday, April 21, 2014

Should I Retweet That Compliment?

Part of my trip to Louisville for Together for the Gospel included attending a pre-conference event hosted at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and organized by Tim Brister. If you ever attend T4G, Tim’s Band of Bloggers is the best money you’ll spend. You get a free lunch and more free books than the main conference. This year’s panel discussed platform building.

That’s an important conversation--especially with the rise of celebrity pastors and the abuses that go along with it. How does one navigate these murky waters?

It’s important not to conflate pastoral ministry with the work of a writer. As someone who writes about theology, but isn’t a pastor, I may have a helpful point of view. Conflating these two has caused some of the celebrity pastor problems the evangelical church is facing down right now. It seems part of the path to celebrity is having a mega- multi-site church, making the conference rounds as a sort of tribal leader (a phrase I loath), and writing books. Sadly, many of these pastors walk this path without any gifting for writing. This problem is compounded by the practice of ghostwriting. A lesser know writer with an actual gifting for it writes books under the name of a celebrity pastor. You get the best of both worlds (supposedly)--big name for sales, and good writing.

However, we must free our pastors not to write if they are not gifted. Jared Wilson, John Piper, R. C. Sproul, and Carl Trueman are the exception, not the rule. These men have clear writing gifts that they use for the kingdom. I would encourage those in ministry to find your gifting and exercise it daily for the good of the church. If it’s writing--good and well. If it’s organizing, use that. If it’s counseling, do that. If it’s speaking, use that. But don’t feel pressure to write if you are not gifted in that area.

When this becomes an expectation of all pastors, it diminishes those in the church who have the actual gift for words--whether pastor or layperson. Can you imagine the expectation that all pastors should have a talent for fixing cars, building stuff, or filing taxes? It cheapens the God glorifying gifts of others, while also adding to the Biblical qualifications for the pastorate.

Conflating these two--ministry and writing--causes misunderstanding in how we share our creative work. During the Band of Blogger event, the question was posed, “Is retweeting a compliment wrong?” Justin Taylor, vice president of book publishing at Crossway, immediately responded with, “It’s a sin.” That took me back. When asked if he wanted to nuance that at all, he stood firm, “Sin.” I agree that it may be sin. But I’m not sure if I could so boldly declare it sinful for every person, at all times. I would have loved to had a couple guys who do this on the panel to offer some push back (I’m thinking Tullian, N. D. Wilson, or Anthony Bradly--pastor and writer; philosopher, writer, and professor; and academician, writer, and professor).

I had a wonderful conversation with Matt Heerema (who by the way is a great guy. His group was gracious enough to include me on multiple occasions in activities and let me crash in their room--my hotel was farther away) after BoB about this question and he had some great insights. He pointed out the compliment retweet is an issue of the heart.1 If you don’t retweet it, but pride is in your heart than you’ve already sinned. Interestingly, he also noted that in his industry, which is web design, sharing compliments, accolades, and accomplishments is standard industry practice. This brings me back to the conflation of ministry with writing and also a hard and fast divide between sacred and secular work.

As Christians we must tether our ethics to Scripture. Are there overarching principles we can apply in this situation? Scripture is clear that where it is silent and where a case cannot be made by “good and necessary consequence,” we have the freedom to act in faith. Paul says, “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. . . . But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:4, 23). If you can in good conscience without pride and in faith retweet the compliment, then it can’t be a sin.

Also, imagine that you are a Christian who makes movies, paints, or designs home. Imagine hearing that you may never retweet a compliment for your business. It sounds silly. If I am working in love for neighbor and doing it with excellence, why should I not be able to share what others praise in that excellence for the glory of God? My meager excellence, in that context, is a reflection, even if poorly, of the excellence of God in creating. When we out and out condemn it as sinful, we are making judgements on the heart and intentions of another man’s servants.

I say all of that to say, I don’t make a practice of doing it, but partly because it is highly frowned upon in my circles. It would actually hinder what I’m trying to accomplish. I do regularly make it a practice of sharing what I find excellent in others and encourage you to do the same. Also, if you are doing this, if you are not constantly focusing inward then why should you not be able to share the occasional tweet as compliment? I regularly make decisions on where to eat, stay, vacation, read, or purchase based on the testimony of others. I want to know what real people are saying about a product, service, book, hotel, restaurant, or whatever. It helps me make smart decisions.

So at the end of the day, if you can retweet the compliment in good conscience before God and in faith, I say go for it. If your conscience prevents you, then don’t. But I would encourage others to be slow to judge another man’s servants.

[Editor’s note: I re-arranged multiple sentences in the seventh and eighth paragraph to distinguish between my own thoughts and the one’s shared by Matt Heerema. Matt’s main point was that it’s a heart issue. I also added two sentences to the eighth paragraph: “As Christians we must tether our ethics to Scripture. Are there overarching principles we can apply in this situation?”]

1. Matthew 15:10-20 “And he called the people to him and said to them, ‘Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.’ Then the disciples came and said to him, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?’ He answered, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.’ But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.’ And he said, ‘Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.’”

2. Proverbs 27:2 “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.” This verse was used as an example of Scripture condemning the compliment retweet. My immediate thought was, “Isn’t that exactly what’s happening?” The person isn’t praising themselves. They are letting the other person praise their creative excellence and sharing what’s been said.
Mathew Sims is the author of A Household Gospel Fulfilling the Great Commission in Our Homes and has written for CBMW Men’s blog, Gospel-Centered Discipleship, Borrowed Light, and Servants of Grace. He also works as the managing editor at Gospel-Centered Discipleship. They attend Downtown Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Greenville, SC.
Get Your Copy of A Household Gospel Today: Paperback or Digital

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Review: Michael Bird, Craig Evans, et al’s How God Became Jesus

Michael F. Bird, Craig A. Evans, et al. How God Became Jesus. Book.
Zondervan Academic, 2014. 233 pages. Paperback. Kindle.
Last November during the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, New Testament scholar Michael Bird saw a poster for a forthcoming book from Bart Ehrman–How Jesus Became God. Believing that a timely and thoughtful response was necessary, Bird put forth the novel and seemingly crazy idea of releasing a response book on the very same day as Ehrman’s book. And so, Bird assembled a team of eminent scholars who are experts in the relevant fields (Craig Evans, Simon Gathercole, Chris Tilling, and Charles Hill). Within a matter of a few months, they had read a pre-publication copy of Ehrman’s book and crafted a response.

In chapter 1, Bird opens the book by noting the question of “when” Jesus “became” God is a loaded one, and that the question of Jesus’s divinity is ultimately a confessional one. However, the details of when, why, and how the followers of Jesus came to regard him as divine is a historical one that can indeed be answered by an examination of the evidence. “Such an enquiry can be responsibly pursued by mapping out the christological claims and religious devotion of early Christian writings in the first four centuries of the Common Era. This is the area in which we wish to critically engage the work of Ehrman directly” (12-13). Bird introduces this engagement by acquainting the reader with the “Early High Christology Club,” which argues for a “big bang” approach rather than an evolutionary one to the origins of a fully divine Christology. The figures mentioned here are luminaries in the field and must be engaged in any discussion of early Christology (key works are cited in the book for further reading concerning early high Christology).

In chapter 2, Bird engages with Ehrman’s first two chapters on divinity in the ancient world. Whereas Ehrman asserts that the majority of the Hebrew Scriptures convey a henotheistic view, Bird demonstrates that Jewish monotheism was generally strict. He also points out some of the errors in Ehrman’s methodology in using Greco-Roman conceptions of divinity to explain Jesus’s divinity. Bird notes early Christian beliefs about Jesus were a revised form of Jewish monotheism–a “christological monotheism.” In response to Ehrman’s assertion that “to make Jesus divine, one simply needs to think of him as an angel in human form” (Ehrman 61), Bird shows the new Testament authors present Jesus to be distinct from the angels and to have authority over them. In chapter 3, Bird first exposes some methodological errors and inconsistencies in Ehrman’s approach to historical Jesus studies. He then takes on Ehrman’s claims about Jesus’ self-understanding–mainly that 1) Jesus did not claim to be God, but rather, an apocalyptic prophet and messiah; and 2) he was not referring to himself when he referred to the Son of Man. Bird demonstrates Jesus believed that in his own person and ministry, YHWH was finally returning to Zion to renew the covenant and fulfill His promise of a new exodus. Bird does an excellent job showing that Jesus viewed himself as the Son of Man and that in the Old Testament, the coming of the Messiah was described also as the coming of God.

In chapter 4, Evans contests Ehrman’s claims that it is historically unlikely that Jesus was buried, and by extension, that his tomb was later discovered to be empty. This chapter is very strong, and contra Ehrman (who neglected archeological evidence), Evans demonstrates from ample and compelling literary and archaeological evidence that Roman law did permit burial of crucified criminals, and that Roman authority in Israel at the time of Jesus did respect Jewish burial traditions in which all the dead, including crucified criminals, were to be buried before nightfall.

In chapter 5, Gathercole responds to Ehrman’s chapter in which he asserts that the earliest Christology from the earliest Christian witness (e.g. the Synoptic gospels) is an exaltational/adoptionistic one–that is, that Jesus was a mere man whom God adopted as son at the baptism and exalted at the resurrection. Whereas Ehrman believes that a Christology of preexistence came later, Gathercole asserts the Synoptic Gospels do have a Christology of preexistence and shared divine identity with God. Exaltation language in Scripture is shown to be economical rather than ontological–that is, what changed at Jesus’s exaltation pertains not to his identity/being/essence, but rather, His role and authority.

In chapter 6, instead of responding to one of Ehrman’s chapters, Tilling points out some problems with his overall interpretive approach in How Jesus Became God. The errors in Ehrman’s monotheism, his use of the word “divine,” his distinction between exaltation Christologies and incarnational Christology, and his claim of a dubious reading of Galatians 4:14 (as communicating that Jesus was an angel) being the interpretive key for Pauline Christology, are all examined. Tilling moves on in chapter 7 to tackle problems with Ehrman’s exegesis in relation to his Pauline Christology. He first addresses three explanatory conditions that must be met in order to best grasp Paul’s “divine Christology” and then makes five critical observations about Ehrman’s treatment of Paul. Tilling exposes several problems with Ehrman’s exegesis of the Christ hymn of Philippians 2 through which Ehrman concludes Jesus definitely was not God prior to becoming human. Not only is Ehrman’s exegesis here flawed, but it is problematic that this is the sole passage he engaged with in-depth in his construction of Pauline Christology in How Jesus Became God. Tilling’s chapter concludes with a quick look at some of the problems in Erman’s reading of the Gospel of John and the letter to the Hebrews.

How God Became Jesus concludes with two chapters by Hill pertaining to Ehrman’s concluding two chapters, which cover Christological developments on the road to Nicaea. In chapter 8, Hill reviews Ehrman’s assertions about a number of Christological “dead-ends” and heterodoxies of the second and third centuries, arguing that orthodoxy was not the product of “heresy hunters rewriting history.” In the concluding chapter, Hill scrutinizes Ehrman’s proposal of “ortho-paradoxes.” This is Ehrman’s word for what we would simply call paradoxes. In relation to doctrines such as the Trinity and the deity and humanity of Christ, Ehrman’s contention is basically that contradictions caused the orthodox to “settle” for the paradoxes. Hill shows that Christ being both God and human is a paradox within the New Testament, not an “ortho-paradox” that resulted later from the orthodox struggling to come to grips with irreconcilable contradictions.

Finally, Hill responds to Ehrman’s charge in his epilogue that there is a close connection between believing in Christ’s deity and violent, Christian anti-Judaism. This is an important point for Ehrman, as he starts priming the reader for it several chapters in advance. Without reducing the tragedy of what has happened, Hill shows that persecution of Jews is not really traceable in any major way to the belief in the deity of Christ.

Having read Ehrman’s book first and having taken notes on things I found dubious, I did not feel that everything was adequately addressed in How God Became Jesus. For example, in chapter 2 Ehrman is largely trying to convince the reader that “to make Jesus divine, one simply needs to think of him as an angel in human form” (Ehrman 61). In his response Bird did not adequately show that Jesus is not an angel, but rather, at the top of the divinity pyramid with God. Bird’s arguments show Jesus to have authority over the angels, but within the spectrum of divinity that Ehrman posits there is a hierarchy among angels. Jesus could be the chief among angels with authority over all other angels.

There is only one glaring omission in this book: Ehrman’s fifth chapter is not addressed at all. That chapter concerns what we can know about the resurrection, which according to Ehrman is the fact that some of Jesus’ followers came to believe that he was raised from the dead. Ehrman of course seeks to explain the disciples’s experiences of seeing the resurrected Christ in a a naturalistic way, comparing the phenomenon to bereavement visions, visions of esteemed religious figures, and modern-day claims of Jesus’ appearance. [Editor’s note: Gospel-Centered Discipleship will be running a post tackling this chapter from How Jesus Became God. Jonathan Dodson moves through each of Ehrman’s assertions and addresses them succinctly and pastorally.]

The strongest chapter was probably Evans’s chapter on the burial traditions and evidences. The chapter it’s responding to assert that it’s historically unlikely that Jesus was buried in a tomb. If this claim is given credibility, it could put a death knell in the credibility of the resurrection. Evans masterfully, from literary and archeological evidence, shows that a decent burial in a tomb was not, as Ehrman had argued at length, inconsistent with Roman policies and practices concerning crucified criminals. Overall, How God Became Jesus provides a strong response to Ehrman’s book. The evangelical contributors truly comprise a dream-team in terms of expertise on the relevant subject matter. They have published in some of the most prestigious academic journals in New Testament studies and historical Jesus studies, some of the same journals in which Ehrman has published.

Every Christian should read How God Became Jesus--and I don’t say this often. The ideas put forth in Ehrman’s books regularly become popularized and are regurgitated by opponents of Christianity. These kinds of christological debates are never confined to academic circles. They bleed into our real life conversations with your non-Christian friends, family, and co-workers. Will you know how to respond? Will you be able to cogently defend from history and the Scriptures that Jesus is Lord? How God Became Jesus is a great starting point. And if you don’t find all your questions answered, endnotes provide key books for further reading.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Jennifer Bio
Jennifer Guo is a bean counter by day and a book eater by night. She is passionate about the gospel and loves biblical and theological studies. She also loves the arts and is part of a performing arts ministry that uses a variety of mediums to communicate the gospel, God’s heart, and His design for sexuality, relationships, and marriage. Jennifer also loves running and cooking (and not because running allows her to eat more). You can follow her @JenniferGuo or read more reviews at her blog Jennifer Guo.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Review: Bart Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God

Bart D. Ehrman. How God Became Jesus.
HarperOne, 2014. 416 pages. Hardcover. Kindle.
Dr. Bart Ehrman is a New Testament scholar and a professing agnostic. His books are used in New Testament courses at secular universities across the country, and several of his popular-level books have become New York Times bestsellers. Needless to say, Ehrman is one of the most prominent and influential voices attacking the foundational truth claims of the Christian faith.

In his latest book, How Jesus Became God, Ehrman turns to the topic of Jesus’s divinity. He seeks to expose the “real” story of how a crucified peasant from Galilee came to be thought of as the one true God. According to Ehrman and scholars like him, Jesus did not claim to be God nor did his followers believe him to be such during his lifetime. So how, from a historical perspective, did the Jesus’ followers come to see him as divine?

One of Ehrman’s driving questions in this study is what Christians meant by saying “Jesus is God.” When we ask whether the early Christians thought of Jesus as God, the real question we need to ask is in what sense Christians thought of Jesus as God (44). Accordingly, his first two chapters address how the ancient world conceived of divinity, positing that both the pagans and the Jews had a scale or pyramid of divinity in which gods temporarily became human, humans were exalted to gods, and human-god unions produced demigods. He also asserted without much supporting argument that Judaism was henotheistic (believed in the existence of more than one god, but only one should be worshipped). The point Ehrman is endeavoring to make in the first two chapters is that the early Christian claim of Jesus being God is not what we think of the claim–they could have just meant that Jesus is a lesser divinity such as an exalted angel.

Chapter 3 introduces problems and methods in historical Jesus studies, exploring the question of how Jesus understood and described himself. Ehrman’s conclusion, unsurprisingly, is that Jesus did not talk about himself as a divine being. The short answer to how Jesus came to be considered God is that it had everything to do with the belief among his followers that he had been raised from the dead. In chapters 4 and 5, Ehrman deals with what we can and cannot know about the resurrection of Jesus. According to Ehrman, both the burial and empty tomb accounts are historically unlikely; in other words, that Jesus was not actually buried. No burial means no empty tomb, and no empty tomb means no argument for the resurrection. In terms of what we can know about the resurrection, Ehrman says that there can be no doubt that some of Jesus’ followers came to believe that he was raised from the dead. Here he notes that there was not universal agreement among the first Christians as to what exactly “raised from the dead meant.” Ehrman summarizes three views evidenced from early church writings–the raising of a spiritual body, the raising of the spirit, and the raising of the mortal body. Then he provides naturalistic explanations for the disciples’ visionary experiences of seeing the resurrected Christ.

The remainder of the book deals with christological developments following the resurrection. Chapter 6 addresses the earliest views of Christ, arguing that it was an exaltation/adoptionist Christology. This christological view sees Jesus as mere human being (not divine in any sense) who did not preexist, but at some point was “adopted” by God to a divine status, exalted to a position of honor, power, and authority at God’s right hand. Chapter 7 addresses incarnation Christology–the view that Jesus was a heavenly being who condescended to temporarilyb take on human form. Ehrman’s assertion is that the earliest Christology was exaltational, but that it quickly morphed into incarnational. He argues that in Galatians 4:14 Paul calls Christ an angel, and that an angelomorphic Christology causes virtually everything else about Christ in the Pauline epistles to make sense. The last two chapters trace the development of Christology on its way to Nicene orthodoxy, addressing some of the Christological heresies along the way. Ehrman’s assertion here is that orthodoxy was the product of “heresy hunters” rewriting history. An epilogue covers the impact of Nicene Christology on the pagan world, the Jewish world, and the Christian world.

Even though I disagree with the central theses of this book, I did find it at times to be an enjoyable read. Ehrman gets much right, but unfortunately he is devastatingly wrong at many significant points. It’s not possible to address specific disagreements in this limited space, nor is it necessary since a team of five international scholars have written a response that I will be review tomorrow in this same space. In terms of the big picture, my big qualm with this book is that Ehrman paints himself as an objective historian but he is clearly biased by his presuppositions. He often makes assertions without backing them up. He also paints a monolithic picture of credible scholarship, as if all credible scholars agree with him; but he cites himself and his friends often, and doesn’t engage the reputable scholars and relevant historical/archaeological evidence that disagrees with him.

I would not recommend this book to most lay Christians; as will be shown tomorrow, the response book How God Became Jesus adequately summarizes Ehrman’s main arguments and provides historically responsible rejoinders. For most, Ehrman’s book would be confusing and it would be difficult to sift the wheat from the chaff, the truths from the inaccuracies. For those with background, knowledge, and interest in studying early Christology, there is value in reading Ehrman’s latest book. But if you read Ehrman’s book, definitely read Bird et al.’s response and read some Larry Hurtado/Richard Bauckham/Martin Hengel. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s review of the response book.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Jennifer Guo is a bean counter by day and a book eater by night. She is passionate about the gospel and loves biblical and theological studies. She also loves the arts and is part of a performing arts ministry that uses a variety of mediums to communicate the gospel, God’s heart, and His design for sexuality, relationships, and marriage. Jennifer also loves running and cooking (and not because running allows her to eat more). You can follow her @JenniferGuo or read more reviews at her blog Jennifer Guo.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Resurrection Seed #ResurrectionSeries14

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic,[b] “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her. (John 20:11-18 see also Matt. 28:1-10, Mk. 16:1-8, Lk. 24:1-12)
John shares a story of mistaken identity. Mary and other women arrive at Jesus’ tomb on the morning of his resurrection. The synoptics recall the women conversing among themselves to the effect of “Who’s going to roll the stone away?” But when they get there, the stone is already rolled back and as one might expect they are afraid and confused. Now the synoptics and John’s gospel report that the women went into the tomb and an angel reports Jesus’ resurrection. John then fills out the story with some other details.

Mary Magdalene returns with the disciples who see the empty tomb, and as the men are leaving, she stays and weeps outside the tomb. Jesus approaches her, “‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’” As is often the case after the resurrection, Jesus is unrecognized in his risen state. She replies, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” What I love is his simple reply to her. Jesus says, “Mary” and immediately she knows her Lord. This scene is so intimate. You can sense the care Jesus has for her.

Part of what makes this passage compelling is Mary’s mistaking Jesus when we all know it’s him. Even though the section is short, I always find myself screaming, “It’s him, Mary. He’s alive!” John tells us she thinks he’s the gardener. She’s wrong in a way, but in another way she’s profoundly right. In the beginning starts with creation and ends in the Garden of Eden. God places Adam and Even in the garden to tend and care for it. They failed. Sin enters the world. Jesus arrives and enters the Garden Tomb and crushes the serpent’s head. It’s a death blow, but the writhing serpent will still cause chaos until his final breath. In the end, God’s temple, an eschatological temple-garden, will arrive and all things will be made new--including us.

Jesus is the the eschatological Gardener. He plants our bodies into the ground and one day those resurrection seeds will grow into a tall a tree. Paul reminds the Corinthians of this truth,
But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. (1 Corinthians 15:35-38)
Our bodies are seeds. We will die and be planted. We will rise up--just like Jesus, the first fruit of the resurrection. So as we meditate on the death and resurrection of Jesus this week, fear not saints. He did rise and we will rise with him. We are the resurrection seed and he is the gardener.
One with the Father, Ancient of Days,
Through the Spirit who clothes faith with certainty.
Honor and blessing, glory and praise
To the King crowned with pow'r and authority!
And we are raised with Him,
Death is dead, love has won, Christ has conquered;
And we shall reign with Him,
For He lives: Christ is risen from the dead!
“See What a Morning (Resurrection Hymn)”
Mathew Sims is the author of A Household Gospel Fulfilling the Great Commission in Our Homes and has written for CBMW Men’s blog, Gospel-Centered Discipleship, Borrowed Light, and Servants of Grace. He also works as the managing editor at Gospel-Centered Discipleship. They attend Downtown Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Greenville, SC.
Get Your Copy of A Household Gospel Today: Paperback or Digital

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Steaming Pile of Lies

I was meditating on this parable after reading Jared C. Wilson’s The Storytelling God (which I recently reviewed), and something struck me. That’s one of the things I love about the parables. Every time I read them, they feel fresh.

The prodigal son demands his inheritance before his father is even dead. He goes out into a far country and spends everything. Jesus says, “So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything” (Lk. 15:15-16). This “into a far country” reminds me of Adam and Even being exiled from the Garden, or even Joseph and his family staying in Egypt because of the famine. These retreats are not in the promised land. They are countries outside of the covenant land, the place of peace and rest. This son has made himself a stench by cutting himself off from the congregation of the Lord.

On top of that, this “citizen of the country” sends this Jewish boy to feed pigs, and doesn’t even provide food for the task. In this instant, the boy remembers something. “‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father’” (vv. 17-18). In this set of parables about lost things, the seeker is God. God is seeking his lost sheep, coin, and son. God pursues sinners.

The parable of the lost sheep and coin don’t have a “citizen of the country” who is a rascal and fiend. But could we be faithful to the text and suggest that this “citizen of the country” is a picture of the unregenerates’ master, the father of lies? Paul says we were members of the “the body of sin” (Rom. 6:6), but we die and rise with Christ to annul this unholy marriage. Paul through out Romans 6 plainly calls this marriage what it is--slavery. And do we not see that in Luke 15? This boy has enslaved himself to this citizen. This citizen is not a kind, generous man. He is a slave driver who doesn’t even provide for the basic needs of his workers. He treats them worse than the pigs.

The boy comes to his senses and remembers how his father treats even the very least of his servants with honor and respect. He provides for their needs and cares for them as people--in a way, they are part of his family. There’s something subtly suggested here. One of the points of the parable is to remind us that the pleasures Satan promises are a steaming pile of lies. God is a covenant keeper, a truth teller. He has said we will have pleasures forever more in Christ. He has said we are free. He has called those who believe sons. Let us, therefore, never return to the slop of the pig sty and rather pursue with all our might the joy that’s ours in Christ.
Mathew Sims is the author of A Household Gospel Fulfilling the Great Commission in Our Homes and has written for CBMW Men’s blog, Gospel-Centered Discipleship, Borrowed Light, and Servants of Grace. He also works as the managing editor at Gospel-Centered Discipleship. They attend Downtown Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Greenville, SC.
Get Your Copy of A Household Gospel Today: Paperback or Digital

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Review: Jared C. Wilson’s The Storytelling God

Jared C. Wilson. The Storytelling God.
Crossway, 2014. 192 pages. Paperback. Kindle.
The Storytelling God approaches the parables through Jesus and kingdom spectacles. “The rightful king has landed, and he is leading an insurrection against the pretenders to his throne” (17) and “The glory of Christ is to be had in the parables, provided the parables are had at all” (21). These loci help Jared see the “mosaic of God’s vision” in the variety of genres within all of Scripture (22), while also avoiding a “literary scavenger hunt” (28) as he examines the parables’ meaning. Some who are great theologians, but don’t have much if any literary chops, miss this. They’re searching for a direct one for one in all these stories, when they should be hearing and understanding the one main point of that parable. They should be interpreting them for what they are. Instead of wringing these parables dry of every last ounce of “meaning.”

Jared tackles many of the parables you might expect--the prodigal son, the sheep and the goat, the good Samaritan--but what I found compelling was the inclusio he forms around the standard parables. The book starts, as we discussed, with a robust treatment of God’s kingdom in Jesus Christ, and ends with chapters on “The Parables before the Parables” (the parabolic genre in the OT), “Jesus, the Living Parable” (the I AM’s of John’s Gospel), and ends with “The Unstoppable and Unfathomable Kingdom” (Mark 4:26-34). I love the set up. Everything is wrapped up in the kingdom of God and everything inside is Jesus from Old Testament parables to the New Testament parables. Ultimately, he encourages us to preach the gospel of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. “If you know and speak the gospel, you are a channel for God’ destroying of strongholds and resurrection of lives. Every Christian who can articulate the gospel has the launch code and access to the button” (169-70).

Jared Wilson is well suited to write this kind of book. He’s not just a theologian, but also a reader and writer of good stories. In his hand, these parables come to life. “Once upon a time, a king came to earth to tell stories, and the stories contained the mystery of eternal life” (36). These parables are interruptions of our lives (175). But they are interruptions and stories in the way The Lord of the Rings are. They are not good stories meant as a sort of escapism. They are meant to create tension and, therefore, to remind us how real the kingdom of God is and how relevant and pertinent the preaching of that kingdom in the name of Jesus Christ is. The parables then drive us towards action for the kingdom. The Storytelling God understands this and, therefore, is worth your time.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Mathew Sims is the author of A Household Gospel Fulfilling the Great Commission in Our Homes and has written for CBMW Men’s blog, Gospel-Centered Discipleship, Borrowed Light, and Servants of Grace. He also works as the managing editor at Gospel-Centered Discipleship. They attend Downtown Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Greenville, SC.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Review: JinHyok Kim’s The Spirit of God and the Christian Life

JinHyok Kim. The Spirit of God and the Christian Life. Fortress Press, 2014. 329 pages. Kindle. Paperback.

There are few theologians more verbose than Karl Barth. This truth makes it even more amazing that Barth wrote few direct words on the work of the Holy Spirit. This could have been because he did not get to complete his epic Church Dogmatics. It may have been because of his Biblical obsession with Jesus Christ. In either case, JinHyok Kim in The Spirit of God and the Christian Life presents a compelling construction of what Barth’s complete pneumatology might have looked like had the theologian been able to fulfill his Church Dogmatics.

JinHyok Kim’s work on Karl Barth’s theology of the Holy Spirit is nothing short of stunning. There are numerous devotional portions amidst taxing descriptions of Barth’s philosophical distinctions. For an evangelical America that is far too similar to Barth’s liberal Germany, the renewed majesty found in studying the Holy Spirit and prayer is delightful. Both subjects are compellingly brought back into focus in the theology of Karl Barth. The activity of prayer is portrayed as sacred. The Holy Spirit is shown to be essential in all activities of the Trinity.

The Communication
The Spirit of God and the Christian Life: Reconstructing Karl Barth’s Pneumatology is a doctrinal thesis republished. In many ways it reads like a thesis (e.g. extensive endnotes). But in spite of its deep insights it overcomes the difficulties of communicating high-level theology clearly and efficiently. The language of the book is effective in its communication but also common and inviting in many places. In his own voice and tenor, JinHyok Kim communicates at both a technical and practical level with surprising efficiency.

It does not act as a good introduction to Barth’s theology. Those lacking previous exposure to the more foundational elements of Barth’s teaching will be provided only brief introductions on crucial subjects. Similarly, some background in the philosophy of Emmanuel Kant and theology of Fredrich Schleiermacher is beneficial to those seeking to analyze the fine-tuning of Barth’s theology in its cultural context (particularly true in chapter two). Regardless, the communication by JinHyok is proficient and the book is accessible for those with a critical mind.

The Content
The Spirit of God and the Christian Life is broken up into four chapters that highlight specific relationships to the Holy Spirit. JinHyok Kim walks through the topics of redemption, salvation history, revelation, and finally beauty--as he brings to light either obscure or small portions of Barth’s written material.

In the first chapter, JinHyok Kim explores previous interpretations of Barth’s pneumatology and provides his own lens of context. Barth’s theology of prayer, which Kim argues focused on the Holy Spirit and redemption, are difficult to construct given the incomplete nature of his final volume in Church Dogmatics. Nevertheless, The Spirit of God and the Christian Life is an attempt to reconstruct Barth’s theology using previous writing and lectures materials.

It is the Trinitarian foundation of Barth’s theology that made him stand out in the surrounding liberal atmosphere. His relation of the Holy Spirit to prayer in his commentary on Romans 8 stands out as the primary mode of Barth’s exploration on the role of the Holy Spirit in the elevation of believers to prayer. The Holy Spirit illumines the Word of God and relates us to the person of Jesus Christ. It is in this way that Karl Barth’s views on prayer move beyond the subjective anthropology of Schleiermacher. The Holy Spirit is the means of adoption in the Trinitarian act of redemption. The Holy Spirit in prayer lifts the “pray-er,” a term developed fully in the book, up together with Jesus Christ who is in fact God come down to man. Far from making prayer a less providential experience, Barth’s theology stresses the role that the Holy Spirit plays in bringing the eschatological realities of our identity in Christ to the forefront of verbal communication back to the Father. The effects on prayer should be sweeping and sweet.

In the second chapter, Barth’s Pneumatology is applied to the doctrine of election. Barth’s Pneumatology sets the context of election both as an eternal decree and an event in history. This interacts well and profoundly with Barth’s particular form of Christology: the double predestination found in Jesus Christ. This eternal decree of God upon “God-self,” a phrase utilized by JinHyok, stands eternal before all of creation and God’s creation cannot be fathomed apart from His previous decree, upon Himself, to save man through man. But election for Barth also must be an act of God’s freedom.

This focus on God’s freedom in election can only be sustained by emphasizing the Holy Spirit’s role in applying the election of Jesus Christ in time and space. God’s eternal election must work itself out from God-self, to the covenant community and only finally to individuals. Without these nuances JinHyok confirms that Barth can be misunderstood “as an amalgam of Reformed and Arminian soteriology, which eventually opts for the doctrine of universal salvation” (133).

The third chapter focused primarily on revelation. Though Barth’s work in the realm of election is well known, his neglected theology on revelation was equally groundbreaking. Once again JinHyok aptly demonstrates how the Holy Spirit mediates across the natural chasms of Barth’s theology. One of the more applicable highlights of the book occurs early in the chapter as Kim applies Barth’s pneumatology to the relationships of Divine-logic to human-logic, subject to object and finally revelation to language. It is in this last section that Kim presents valuable insight to the Spirit’s work in God revealing “God-self” to mankind. That God can assume the “medium of language to speak to humanity” (177) is meant to be an encouragement. Ultimately the church is told by Barth that it can rest assured in God’s ability. There is no such thing as church language and Christians “should keep silence again, enjoying their Sabbath and leaving it to the Word of God to speak for itself” (178).

The fourth and final chapter covers the Holy Spirit’s involvement with beauty. Barth’s presentation of the beauty found in the Lord is a unique theological characteristic. JinHyok aptly brings the glory of God, as Barth defined it, to the forefront of theology via God as God is and as God does. God’s glory and perfection (and hence His beauty) is made manifest in His freedom to love the world. This, of course, in Barth’s paradigm is recognized solely through the work of the Holy Spirit. Barth saw this as necessary to avoid the natural theology he felt plagued Protestant liberalism. The Spirit of God and the Christian Life comes to a close with a profound section on Barth and the arts. Though this section was some of the most enjoyable to read, the inclusion of the Holy Spirit directly was noticeable.

The Spirit of God and the Christian Life is a must read for individuals seeking to re-introduce joy, beauty, and the Holy Spirit into theology. The language and presentation provokes further interest while supplying substantial insights into the activity of the Holy Spirit in the life of Christians. The final chapter on the beauty of the Lord is needed desperately in the church today.

Ultimately, Barth’s response to the philosophy and theology of his day was grounded in Jesus Christ known through the Holy Spirit. And it is this same Holy Spirit that is needed today in the church. JinHyok Kim presents a starting point for analyzing Barth’s theology in light of a complete Pneumatology. It is up to the church to invest in the study of the Holy Spirit and improve on Barth’s doctrine.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Joshua Torrey is a New Mexico boy in an Austin, TX world. He is husband to Alaina and father to Kenzie & Judah and spends his free time studying for the edification of his household. These studies include the intricacies of hockey, football, curling, beer, and theology. He blogs theological musings and a running commentary of the Scriptures at The Torrey Gazette.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

“but if it dies. . . ” #ResurrectionSeries14

Long ago, in a holy land, the Son of God lifted His eyes and asked a dead man to walk out of his rank tomb. The dead man obliged (Jn. 11).

Many believed in Him that day.

Others ratted Him out.

His days seemed to shorten after that.
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. (Jn. 12:24-26)

In John 12:21, Greeks had said to Philip, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Years later it would become popular to inscribe this request on pulpits. Fitting indeed.

The Lord Jesus replied to the request to see Him by talking about the fruit His death and resurrection would reap. Also, fitting for pulpits. His death and resurrection would trigger an everlasting harvest beginning with Jesus and culminating in life for His chosen, onward and onward.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Rev. 22:13).

The Lord Jesus has a way with words.

For the Christian death is not so much about death as it is about life, and life is not so much about life as it is about death.

D.A. Carson writes,
Thus, if the image of the seed dying to bring forth many seeds is peculiarly applicable to the death of Jesus Christ, in a slightly different way it is properly applicable to Jesus’ followers. The thought rapidly moves from Jesus’ uniquely fruitful death (the death of one seed producing many seeds) to the mandated death of Jesus’ followers as the necessary condition of their own life. It could not be otherwise. To love one’s life in any absolute sense is to disavow God’s right of sovereignty, and therefore a brazen elevation of self to the level of idol. Those who love their own life in that way lose it, that is, they cause their own perdition. How Long, O Lord? (171-172)

My Resplendent Bride has battled the cancer since 2012.

Suffering is a queer thing: it simultaneously callouses one’s humor while removing scales from one’s eyes.

We’ve been inaugurated into the fellowship of the suffering. We see our once invisible companions everywhere we turn our eyes. How did we not see them before? Prosperity is a haze.

A dear lady once asked me, as we sat around a crowded lunch table, what the cancer had taught me.

“Don’t get cancer,” I replied.

Well, I thought it amusing at any rate.

My Resplendent Bride and I were just talking about how our casual talk of death could potentially make people uncomfortable. We’ve grown accustomed to going to the hospital three or four times a week. We’ve long forgotten the obvious truth that depending upon a stranger’s blood in a little baggy in order to live is… serious.

People die from this thing, this very thing right here, this thing that we are coexisting with against our wills. We hate it, yet it remains the obstinate unwelcome guest that won’t take the hint to leave.

We are not nonchalant people.

We are informed people.

We are everlasting people.

We are Christ’s fruit.

The Church is an eternal forest, and we all trace our lineage back to one seed.

But if a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies…

There is no me without her. This is a lie. This is a truth.

When my Resplendent Bride and I were joined in the covenant of marriage we ceased being two and became one. We are not that which we used to be.

If we were parted I would not be as I was.

Neither would I spend the rest of my days in my wingback chair like a wet cat.

We believe many years of this sojourn still lay before us. We dare to dream of the future. We are dreamers.

But we are Christians first.

Our culture is too jaded to talk about Heaven without snark; too myopic to talk about anything eternal, and too biopic to talk about resurrection in general because there is no resurrection without Jesus.

There is nothing whimsical about Resurrection.

Some have left fingernail marks on the word because they’ve clung tight to it all these years.

The Christian’s hope is that our Resurrection from the dead might be tied directly the crucified carpenter King’s resurrection.

Long ago, in a holy place, the Son of God called the dead to follow Him. Christ the Lord was crucified for our sins and buried. Yet He lives. Three days after His brutal execution He walked out of a borrowed grave. He left messengers in dazzling apparel who asked this question: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Lk 24:5).
Evan Welcher is senior pastor of First Christian Church in Glenwood, Iowa. Husband of the lovely Danielle. Evan graduated with a B.S. in Bible from Emmaus Bible College in 2005. Evans goal in ministry is to stir up love for Jesus Christ by the giving of great care and fidelity to the teaching of the scriptures. He blogs at

Monday, April 07, 2014

Preaching Crucifixion or Cross?

Each year around this time, as we march with anticipation toward the glory and grandeur of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, there is a tendency to overemphasize the process of crucifixion in our zeal to say to others, “Behold the love of God for you! See what Jesus did for you!”

Now don’t get me wrong: we need to know what crucifixion is in order to understand how Jesus died. He wasn’t beheaded, run through with a sword, stoned to death, or drowned. He was crucified. First-century readers of the New Testament knew what crucifixion was, so there was no need for the Gospel writers to delve into all of its gruesome and brutal details.

Focusing on the details of crucifixion may be a true enough account of what Jesus went through, but the problem is that we may neglect to emphasize the greater horror of what Jesus endured. Mere crucifixion stops short of what Jesus did and doesn’t capture the wisdom of the cross and center of the gospel.

In our Good Friday ruminations, we may unintentionally let the method of the crucifixion obscure the message of the cross. Here are three truths to keep in mind.

1. People were crucified before, with, and after Jesus. Let’s observe first that crucifixion wasn’t unique to Jesus but was a violent method of execution that the Romans used with disturbing proficiency and effectiveness. Seeing someone hanging from a cross was an incredible public deterrent from rebelling against those in power. There were many crucifixions. What made the cross of Jesus different? Not the type of wood, length of nails, public scorn, or looming asphyxiation.

2. Unique to Jesus’ death was the cup he drank. In Gethsemane, Jesus knew he faced more than the punishment of men. He acknowledged that he would drink the “cup” of his Father’s wrath (Matt. 26:39). What he would endure on the cross was more than a painful death. The message of the Gospel is not that Jesus died in a manner hundreds of others did. The message is that on the cross Jesus took the cup of God’s judgment and drank it dry. Now while there are certain things you can portray in a film about Jesus—such as flogging, hauling the beam to Golgotha, agonizing cries and groans from pain, exasperation as legs weaken from pushing up to seize a breath—there are also things that don’t communicate through the art of film-making. Jesus bore wrath. The Son was forsaken. The Messiah was fulfilling prophecy. To onlookers, though, this was just another man getting his due, another troublemaker extinguished by mighty Rome. The insurrectionists to his right and left would not have seen the cup he spoke about at Gethsemane. The greatness of this event, though, was in the very thing no one else could see. Eyes didn’t discern something that had been planned before the foundation of the world.

3. The power of Jesus’ crucifixion was in the penal-substitution. Paul told the Corinthians he wanted “to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). But why? The wisdom of the cross is the power of God to those being saved (2:18). Paul wants to know God’s wisdom, even though some deem it foolishness, because on the cross the God-Man became sin for our sake (2 Cor. 5:21). He bore our griefs and sorrows (Isa 53:4), and he paid the wage for our transgressions and iniquities (53:5). The judgment he bore was for our sins, not for his own. He had been tempted but never sinned (Heb. 4:15) in order that he might make satisfy God’s justice hanging over sinners (Heb. 2:17). Paul believes this is a message of love: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). What we deserved, the Son of God took upon himself.

The death of Jesus was the death of a man, but Jesus was more than a man. The Gospel declares that God’s Son—this One through whom the world was made and who upholds the universe—made purification for our sins (Heb. 1:2-3). And his cross was different than all those that were raised before, beside, and after it. There on that tree of shame and reproach, God’s Redeemer carried the weight of sin.

We should want people to know the message of the cross, and that means we must talk about sin and judgment, righteousness and wrath, substitution and redemption. We are not praying that our hearers be sympathetic and full of pity but repentant and full of godly sorrow. Gruesome verbal portrayals of crucifixion may make them cringe and shudder, but only the Gospel message of penal-substitution—the righteous dying for the unrighteous—can make the sinner cry out, “Jesus, son of God and Redeemer, have mercy on me a sinner!”
Mitch Chase is the preaching pastor at Kosmosdale Baptist Church and is the author of Behold Our Sovereign God. He enjoys hanging out with his family, reading good books, eating out, and being with friends. He blogs at Soli Deo Gloria and tweets sporadically and frequently from @MitchellChase.