The world is such an uncertain place. We are awash in political, economic, even religious uncertainty. Currents of circumstances crisscross one another in endless complications. Terra firma is difficult ground to find in these days of turbulent turmoil. It seems the one certainty in every area of life is uncertainty.
It was that way in April 1521, when Luther’s ramshackle cart wobbled its way to Worms, Germany. He had been summoned to appear before the emperor and Catholic prelates to give an account of this new “heresy” he was teaching called “justification by faith alone.” The learned Johann Eck laid out all of Luther’s writings and then asked Luther if he was prepared to recant.
Luther retired to his room that night. His Bible fell open to Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change…. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.”
Luther returned the next morning to stand before his Catholic detractors. In response to their call to recant, Luther responded, “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”
The Reformation was off and running.
Psalm 46 was Martin Luther’s favorite psalm. During the dark and dangerous periods of the Reformation, Luther would turn to his trusted friend Philip Melanchthon and exclaim: “Let’s sing the 46th Psalm, and let the devil do his worst!” It inspired his great hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”
No psalm in all the psalter expresses the tremendous truth that God’s presence and power are with us in all circumstances more than Psalm 46. We need to know God offers us two kinds of help: a stronghold into which we can flee and a source of strength by which we can face the uncertain future.
Psalm 46 is divided into three stanzas, each ending with the mysterious Hebrew word “Selah.” “Selah” was most likely originally a musical notation indicating a pause in the music for contemplation on what was just sung. You might translate it, “Pause and think of that!” When the mountains quake, the Lord is my refuge and strength … Selah! When nations are in uproar and kingdoms fall, the Lord Almighty is with us … Selah! Be still and know that I am God … the Lord Almighty is with us … Selah!
Every new year brings us 365 days of uncertainty. Every new day brings us 24 hours of uncertainty. But every second of every hour of every day, God’s presence and power in our lives is available to us. What does the future hold? It really doesn’t matter, does it, as long as Psalm 46 is true! HIS KINGDOM IS FOREVER! So every day, reflect on Psalm 46, or any passage of Holy Writ, and Selah—pause and think of that!
... Kids today are surrounded by a secularized society that bombards them with advertising, television, and social media messages. Parents are juggling demanding careers and family life in light of societal pressures to be more, do more, and have more. Our good intentions of helping, protecting, and providing for our kids can quickly turn to enabling or even disabling them.
How do we help our kids grow into mature Christ followers without falling into the trap of enabling or disabling them? ...
Hello Dr. Craig,
Today I stumbled upon a few online articles that reported that the stone the Jesus was laid upon after his burial was found. This stone was released from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. National Geographic reported that they can now uncover more information about Jesus' death and burial. Then I saw a linked article that said that they bible is "wrong" about Jesus' death and burial. How well established are the biblical facts of Jesus' death and burial? ...
A few months ago, our elders preached through a series on the church. The penultimate message addressed the important, often misunderstood topic of church discipline. Expounding on Matthew 18, Jamie McBride, articulated a vision of church discipline that is compassionate, convictional, church-building, and Christ-centered.
Jamie considered five faulty objections that are often used against church discipline. Jamie answered these objections in his sermon. And I will seek to answer them here, drawing on many of his biblical insights.Five common objections to church discipline 1. “It’s none of my business.”
In our hyper-individualistic culture, we are accustomed to passing by the plights of others. In the church, however, we cannot simply ignore the needs of others. We are not a restaurant that gives out biblical teaching and communion wafers. We are a family, a household of God, brothers and sisters committed to Christ and one another. We are not like Cain who mocked, “Am I my brothers keeper?” We are our brother’s keeper.
Therefore, when sin enters the church, we cannot say, “It’s none of my business.” We are called to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:1–2) and to confront sin when we see it appearing in the words and actions our fellow church members. This is the point of Matthew 18:10–14 (the passage preceding Jesus’ directives about church discipline): It is God’s will that none of his little ones should perish. Each step of church discipline brings this desire into action. And thus loving Christians can never say: “It’s none of my business.”2. “I don’t want to cause a problem.”
This objection to church discipline sounds so noble, so humble. It is anything but. A dentist who always gives a clean bill of health— “No cavities. Again.”— is not good; he’s dangerous. A housing inspector who turns a blind eye to termite damage in the rafters is inviting residential collapse. So too, the church or church member who refuses to address sin is not making peace; they are insuring that the Satan’s warfare will succeed.
Addressing sin with gospel truth and loving rebuke is not causing a problem. It is aiming to fix a problem. Sin is the problem and love-driven, Christ-centered, repentance-seeking church discipline is the solution. The church should be a place where weak believers are protected from the lies of Satan and where the poison of sin can be leeched from infected lives. In this way, it is patently unloving and untruthful to avoid church discipline (at any stage) because “it causes a problem.”3. “I’m not supposed to judge others.”
This is the most biblical objection when it comes with a proof text: “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt. 7:1). If any verse defines our culture today, it’s this one. And countless Christians have adopted the mentality which says “Who am I to judge? I’m a sinner too.” But this misses Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7:1–5, which calls for Christians to examine their own hearts (“remove the log from your own eye”) so that they can perform spiritual surgery on others (“remove the splinter from another’s eye”). In other words, Jesus’ command doesn’t teach heartless passivity, but humble proactivity.
It is not judgmental to confront those who break God’s law. It’s loving. It is judgmental to condemn others by the laws and traditions we make. Church discipline aims to rescue others from judgment; it seeks reconciliation and forgiveness. Matthew records Jesus’ parable about forgiveness right after Jesus’ speaks about church discipline (Matt. 18:21–35), because the goal of discipline is restoration, not condemnation.4. “I can’t address the sins of another.”
Matthew 18:15 says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault.” This translation follows the later MSS. Earlier manuscripts do not include “against you.” The wrong implication by including “against you” is that if someone has not sinned directly against me, I can let it go.
However, this passivity does not hold up. James 5:19–20 and Jude 22–23 call Christians to “bring back” erring brothers and “save others snatching them out of the fire,” respectively. Therefore, the best manuscript evidence for Matthew 18 and the overarching teaching of the New Testament is that we pursue others—especially members of the church (who have entrusted themselves to the care of the church). It is unloving and unbiblical to say, “I can’t address the sins of another.”5. “I just want to be loving.”
Some object to church discipline because it feels so unloving. And yet, it is just the opposite. As Jonathan Leeman explains in his excellent book The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love, church discipline is only perceived as unloving when we have an unbiblical understanding of love. Yet, when we define love by the cross of Christ, the place where God’s wrath was poured out in full, we learn that true love judges (sin), hates (evil), and disciplines.
Scripture couldn’t be more clear. The father disciplines those sons whom he loves (Prov. 3:11–12; Heb. 12:5–11); the children of God obey the one whom they love (1 John 5:1–3). In contrast to the world which says love is free to do as it pleases, biblical love obeys the laws of God (John 14:15, 21).
Love is never set against law; just the opposite. The law commands love (Lev. 19:18; Gal. 5:14), and love is the fulfillment of the law (Rom. 13:8–10). Moreover, love ceases to be love when it ignores justice: “Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6). In this, the most loving thing we can do is point people to Jesus or help them walk in obedience to him. The objection “I just want to be loving” turns out to be one of the most unloving things a Christian can do.Love disciplines
In the end, church discipline is not only biblical, it is loving. Indeed, nothing could be more loving than prayerfully, compassionately correcting an erring brother or sister. God honors such endeavors and has often preserved the souls of his sheep through the vigilant watch-care of a local church. Indeed, this is what the church is for.
We are not a spiritual interest group who enjoys a hearty potluck after a good sermon. We are a people called out of darkness to walk in the light of his love. We have fellowship with God and one another as we abide in him. And when that fellowship is destroyed by sin, love compels us to sacrifice ourselves in order to discipline others. This is what love looks like. And because it is so foreign to us today, we must continue to let Scripture inform our minds and transform our hearts.
May God help us love . . . and when circumstances necessitate, discipline from hearts compelled by Christ’s love to see others love God through repentance and obedient faith.
In recent years, I have been helped in my study of the Bible by employing an informal distinction between “biblical necessities” and “theological explanations.” Of all the classes I teach at Talbot/Biola, this distinction has been most helpful to students taking a class I teach called Pauline Theology: Romans. Since some of my students have benefitted from this distinction, I thought you might appreciate reading about it today.
A biblical necessity is a truth that you find yourself compelled to affirm after a careful reading of Scripture that pays attention to the appropriate literary, historical, and canonical contexts. You may not know how to explain all the what-abouts of the subject, but you cannot get around the fact that this particular teaching seems clearly supported by Scripture. The thing that you must affirm after a careful and contextual reading of Scripture is a biblical necessity ...
This goal of this blog is for me to soak up wisdom from my father and share it with you. I have been blessed to have an incredibly influential father, Josh McDowell. He has written over 150 books and spoken to more young people live than anyone in history. But what I appreciate most about my father is his love for my mom, for his kids, and now for his many grandkids. Enjoy! ...
Up until about ten or fifteen years ago, Bible scholars mostly wrote for other Bible scholars, rather than for the church. In creating these Bible studies, I wanted to take the knowledge that we Bible scholars know and deliver it directly to the church in a creative and understandable way ...
Each fall, when I begin my survey of church history, I take the time to read and discuss C.S. Lewis’ now famous introduction to Athanasius’ On the Incarnation. Lewis is fascinated by this classic treatment of the incarnation from one of the champions of fourth century Christian theology. As he navigates through the Greek text, Lewis recognizes immediately that it is nothing short of a “masterpiece.” Only a cold, hard heart would not sing when, in the second book, Athanasius brings his argument into focus, proclaiming:
Even so it is with the King of all; He has come into our country and dwelt in one body amidst the many, and in consequence the designs of the enemy against the many, and in consequence the designs of the enemy against mankind have been foiled, and the corruption of death, which formerly held them in its power, has simply ceased to be. For the human race would have perished utterly had not the Lord and Savior of all, the Son of God, come among us to put an end to death.
The Word of the Father, through whom all things were made, has condescended and entered our world to become like us. He thusly thwarted the devil’s schemes, overturned death, and leads the way to true life. What Lewis finds in Athanasius’ work is a glimpse into what he calls “mere Christianity” that comprises the “great mass of common assumptions” shared from one Christian generation to the next.
Lewis is certainly not the first evangelical to advocate for the value of engaging early Christian thought. Many, many Protestants arising from the various streams of the post-Reformation world often returned to the fountainhead of the fathers to confirm their own theological perspectives.
But the problem in the modern period, as Lewis goes on to say, is that more often than not, the great works of Christian past are set aside in preference for more contemporary books. In the modern world, what is newest is best. Why settle for version 1.0, when 2.0 is already out?
Lewis describes this kind of modern presentism, or chronological snobbery, saying, “There is strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books.” A few lines later, he adds that this “mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology.”
In Lewis’ diagnosis, the modern anxiety of ancient books “springs from humility” because the contemporary Christian thinks himself or herself woefully inadequate to grapple with the intellectual giants of our theological heritage. I have no doubt that this is true, at least in part. But I fear there are other, less virtuous and more pragmatic reasons for this kind anti-ad fontes that privileges the modern over the ancient.
But whatever the reason, Lewis rightly offers the antidote in a clarion call for Christians to pick up and “read the old [books].” A new book, in Lewis’ thinking, is potentially even more dangerous and more deceptive than an ancient one. He argues that those who have no acquaintance with classic Christian thought have no grid (or rule of faith) through which to filter the errors of contemporary books. He writes:
A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light. Often it cannot be fully understood without the knowledge of a good many other modern books. If you join at eleven o’clock a conversation which began at eight you will often not see the real bearing of what is said.
Lewis is right. It would take little effort to list a horde of modern books that have captured the hearts and minds of contemporary Christians and directed them off the straight and narrow path.
Lewis makes the poignant observation that the modern Christian has a particular vantage point, and our perspective is “especially good at seeing certain truths and especially liable to make certain mistakes.” The reality is, as Lewis contends, where old books are true, they will help confirm for us the very convictions we already held or even correct some of the blind spots in our own theological reasoning. Where they are false, they will warn us from falling for the same errors and help us steer clear of pitfalls as we navigate the Christian life. Lewis even rounds out his argument with the practical advice to “never … allow yourself another new one [book] till you have read an old one in between.”
The early church was, of course, in no way infallible, as any good student of patristics will be quick to point out. They certainly made their fair share of mistakes. But more often than not, as Lewis recognizes, they did not make the same mistakes. Many recent studies of the evangelical ressourcement of the early church are right to fear any glossing over of the egregious errors of our ancient forbearers. Recovering the theology and exegesis of the early church is not an exercise is idolizing them, but learning from them.
In recent years, it is easy to see how Lewis’ apology for studying early Christian theology participates in a larger movement within contemporary Evangelicalism to recover the theology of the early church. Thomas Oden, who, in many ways, advocated for and accelerated this renaissance, writes, “The sons and daughters of modernity are rediscovering the neglected beauty of classical Christian teaching. It is a moment of joy, of beholding anew what had been nearly forgotten, of hugging a lost child.” A litany of recent evangelical publications evidence Oden’s assessment.
Within this context, Southwestern Seminary is pleased to announce a new center dedicated to the study of the ancient church called the Southwestern Center for Early Christian Studies. The seminary, in fact, has a long track record of research and publications in early Christianity, but now it meets with a heightened focus and attention. A new website, special lectures, patristic reading groups, regular graduate and postgraduate seminars, and a group of faculty and students dedicated to researching the early church will all be features of this new initiative.
I have the privilege of directing this center, but I share this venture with a host of faculty who contribute a wide range of expertise in early Christianity. Anyone interested in studying the early church will find at Southwestern a vibrant academic community interested in recovering what is best from the voices of the past and serious about engaging the fathers for the sake of the church and proclamation of the Gospel.
We are excited about this new initiative and the prospects it holds for future research and teaching at the seminary. For any prospective students or researchers in early Christianity, I encourage you to check out our website and subscribe for regular updates.
Most of all, through the work of the center, we will strive to read more old books and, in the words of Lewis, “keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds.”
C.S. Lewis, “Preface,” in St. Athanasius the Great of Alexandria, On the Incarnation: Greek original and English Translation, 11-17 (Yonkers, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2011), 16.
Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 2.9.
C.S. Lewis, “Preface,” 12, 13.
See, for example, Paul Hartog, “The Complexity and Variety of Contemporary Church—Early Church Engagements,” in The Contemporary Church and the Early Church: Case Studies in Ressourcement (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2010), 1.
Thomas Oden, After Modernity—What?: Agenda for Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992), 14.
See for example: D.H. Williams, Evangelicals and Tradition: The Formative Influence of the Early Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2005); Mark Husbands and Jeffrey P. Greenman (eds.), Ancient Faith for the Church’s Future (Grand Rapids, MI: IVP, 2008); and George Kalantzis and Andrew Tooley (eds.) Evangelicals and the Early Church: Recovery, Reform, Renewal (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2011).
C.S. Lewis, “Preface,” 13.
What did Spurgeon read? He read all sorts of books. He read the Bible, the newspaper, Christian classics, history, biography, and fiction. He averaged reading six substantive books each week. Most of those books were weighty Puritan works. John Piper writes:
I think one of the reasons Spurgeon was so rich in language and full in doctrinal substance and strong in the spirit, in spite of his despondency and his physical oppression and his embattlements, is that he was always immersed in a great book—six a week. We cannot match that number. But we can always be walking with some great “see-er” of God. I walked with Owen most of the year on and off little by little and felt myself strengthened by a great grasp of God’s reality.
A primary reason that Spurgeon was such a great writer was due to his reading habits. W.Y. Fullerton in C. H. Spurgeon: A Biography recounts,
The whole Spurgeon Library, therefore, taking no count of tractates, consists of no less than 135 volumes in all, or, including the reprints, 176! If we add the albums and the pamphlets, we get an output of 200 books!
Fullerton says of Spurgeon’s personal library: “At the time of his death there were 12,000 volumes in Mr. Spurgeon’s library, in addition to those that he had sent to furnish the well-filled shelves of the library at the College.”
12,000 volumes provided the foundation of his library but, as Fullerton indicates, Spurgeon had even more books.
Spurgeon wrote, read, reviewed, distributed, and treasured books. Fullerton asserts, “To listen to his talk on books one would think that he had done nothing but read in the library all his life, and to mark his publications would fancy that he had done nothing but write.”
Yet we know that Spurgeon did much more than read and write. He was a pastor; he was an itinerant preacher, he led numerous institutions, and his services were constantly in demand.
We can distill down from Spurgeon’s reading habits several helps that we can employ.
1. Find good books. In Spurgeon’s library there were many used books that he found in the catalogues of second-hand-bookstores. Whether used or new, find good books. Especially find hardback books that will last through the years and can be passed on to your children.
2. Read good books. Books look beautiful lined across oak shelves. However, books are meant to be read. Spurgeon exhorted: “Give yourself unto reading. The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains, proves that he has no brains of his own.”
3. Read a variety of books. It is assumed that you will regularly feast on the Bible. Beyond that, read history, biography, hymns, classics, and good fiction. Spurgeon asserted:
We are quite persuaded that the very best way for you to be spending your leisure time, is to be either reading or praying. You may get much instruction from books which afterwards you may use as a true weapon in your Lord and Master’s service. Paul cries, ‘Bring the books’ — join in the cry.
4. Read as much as you can. Spurgeon was a uniquely gifted man. You are not Spurgeon, but it is likely you can read more books than you are presently reading. Start somewhere. Attempt two pages per day. In a month you will have read 60 pages and in three months you will finish your book. Start somewhere and then grow in your reading.
This is the fifth part of a five-part series of blogs that chronicle the journey of a cohort of business leaders who together pursued deeper relationships with God and the integration of the resulting spiritual transformation in their personal lives into their roles as leaders in their businesses, and ultimately into the culture of their businesses as a whole ...
Thank you for your work in philosophy and apologetics. I’ve learned much from you. I’m glad to know that you are currently studying the doctrine of the atonement!
It seems to me that no single theory has yet been articulated which is sufficient to address all aspects of the atonement. For example, the Penal Substitution Theory (PST) seems necessary but not sufficient for a complete atonement theory. PST explains (1) Christ’s death in the place of sinful humans, and (2) the satisfaction of the demand for justice. But PST doesn’t sufficiently address the life, work, and teaching of Christ, nor does it sufficiently address the importance of sanctification as a part of atonement. Moreover, since PST holds that Christ bore the punishment we deserve for our sin, the punishment we would have suffered had Christ not volunteered in our place, PST seems to suggest that the justly deserved punishment for sin is not mere death; rather, it is death by crucifixion ...