You may begin reading this article with the idea that I will suggest how many weeks of vacation you should be given by your church, or how much you should advocate to give your pastor. Instead, I intend to answer this question a bit differently. My concern is not about how much vacation time a pastor is given, but how he uses (or doesn’t use) what he is given. In light of this being a common time where vacation time is used, I thought this post would be well-timed for many of you.
This is an appropriate time to pause for a confession. I thought you should know, I often fail at my own advice. I come to the conclusions I often write about on this blog because I have or are currently failing at them. Just thought I would acknowledge that in case you think I write this way because I have figured it all out. Far from it. The stewardship of my vacation time was once a glaring failure in my life.
A few years ago, I was lovingly confronted by a dear friend and fellow pastor that I was not using all my vacation time. In his rebuke, he explained to me the reasons I should be taking every day of vacation the church gives me, which I had never done. Here was the basis for his thoughtful, insightful, and wise argument:
- It’s for you
The pastor never gets a break in the regular routine. We are constantly on call. Vacation time is that time where you get time to breathe away from the madness, be refreshed, and rest. All of us who are pastors know we are no good for our people when we are exhausted, distracted, and mentally and emotionally spent. Use the time and use it wisely to achieve that end.
- It’s for your family
Your family always has to share you. Maybe just as important as the first one, this time is given so that your family has a block of time where they don’t have to share you with the church. When you don’t use all your time that has already been approved by the church for this purpose, you rob your family from having your sole focus to care, fellowship, and enjoy them.
- It’s for your church
How is it that many of our churches have somehow existed and functioned for the last 50 – 100 years without us, yet all of a sudden we come and develop this complex that our church can now no longer live without us for a week or two. Using all your vacation time given to you forces others to step up in your absence, shows them they can make it without you for a time, and reminds the pastor most of all that God is not utterly dependent on him for this church to function.
We are expendable and we need regular jolts of humility to remind us of that.
As a result, for the last four years I have used my full year of vacation given to me by the church since I was called as pastor. The reasons above that my friend confronted me with all showed to be true and fruitful in those ways as I did so. What have I learned from taking all my vacation time these last few years . . . well, I plan on taking it all next year.
If you are a pastor, do what you can to use it all this year. There is still half the summer left. If you are not a pastor, do all you can to encourage your pastor to take it. You, your church, and your pastor will experience multiple layers of benefit because of it.
The post Why should a pastor use all his vacation time each year? appeared first on Southern Equip.
A few years ago I hosted a student debate at my church. Three of my high school students debated three students from the local freethinking club on the historical Jesus, intelligent design, and morality. The church was packed!
One of the freethinking students argued that there is no universal moral law, and hence no need for a God to ground it. As best as I can remember, he argued that morality is merely subjective and depends upon the individual or society.
But then, interestingly, during his closing speech, the same student used the opportunity of being at a church to rail against Christians for being hateful, bigoted and intolerant. In other words, he berated Christians for being immoral ...
First off let me say that I have been a longtime supporter and reader of your work. I have been encouraged and strengthened to give a reason for the hope within by listening to and reading your books, articles, debates, classes, and lectures. Thank you for all you do!
Now, let me build to my question with a brief overview. I am a public school teacher and a youth minister at my church and love doing both. With my youth group I spend a tremendous amount of time inculcating the necessity for loving God with the whole being – heart, soul, MIND, and strength. I really want to ground my students the reality of their Faith – that it is more than feeling but is testable, rational and livable! I also teach them apologetics (I am presently going through the NT’s reliability, Jesus’ resurrection...ect.) and Christian doctrine (of which your Defender’s classes have been a huge asset! *PS – Please make a Christian theology book one day when you get the time!!) ...
It’s not a pleasant topic.
But if we don’t talk about dying churches, we will act like there are no problems. As I wrote in Breakout Churches, the first stage for any church to reverse negative trends is awareness or, stated another way, confronting the brutal realities.
Somewhere between 7,000 and 10,000 churches in America will close their doors in the next year. And many of them die because they refuse to recognize problems before they became irreversible.
So, it is with both sorrow and great love for local churches that I share a pattern that is increasingly common. I call it “the six stages of a dying church.”
The church is declining numerically, but no one seems concerned. Fewer people are reached with the gospel, but no alarm sounds. The church’s impact on the community is negligible, but life continues in the church like nothing has happened.
There is a sense that something’s wrong in the church, so the church responds in one of two ways. Do more of what we are doing that has proven ineffective. Or, secondly, seek a “magic bullet” program, emphasis, or new pastor. The church does not really want to change; it just thinks it needs an adjustment.
Church leaders and members begin to recognize that the magic bullet did not reverse the negative trends, so they deflect the blame. It’s the denomination’s fault. It’s those young people who don’t respect the way we’ve always done it. It’s the messed-up culture. It’s the people in our community who stopped attending churches. The anger in these churches is palpable.
The church had been losing members gradually to this point, but now the outflow increases. And even those who don’t officially leave attend less frequently. The worship center is desolate on Sunday mornings. The anger in the church moves to demoralization.
For the first time since the dying process began, the remaining members say they are more open to new ideas and change. But their words are more words of desperation than conviction. They now see the handwriting on the wall. Their church will soon die.
The church becomes another sad and tragic statistic. At best, the church deeds its property to a healthy church. The process from denial to death in the recent past would take as many as thirty years. Today, the process is much shorter, ten years or less.
Churches have broken free from the death stages, but they are rare. And the longer the church waits to make substantive changes, the more difficult it becomes to reverse the path. It’s significantly easier to make changes at stage one than stage four.
Also, keep in mind that nearly nine out of ten of the churches that die are in communities that are growing.
The problem is not a shortage of people. The problem is a shortage of courage, commitment, and sacrifice.
This article was originally published on Rainer’s blog.
Dr. Clay Jones is one of my colleagues in the Biola Apologetics M.A. program. Although he has been teaching and thinking about the problem of evil for decades, he has just released a new book: Why Does God Allow Evil? Here is my endorsement that made the back cover of the book: “If you are looking for one book to make sense of the problem of evil, this book is for you.”
I plan to use this book very soon with a group of high school students. And it will now be the top book that I recommend on this subject (along with If God, Why Evil by Norman Geisler and The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis) ...
In the first part of this short series, we looked at how both ancient and modern disciples “take offense” at Jesus against his warning in Luke 7:23 —“Blessed is the one who doesn’t take offense in Me.” Easy scholarly and popular conclusions that Israel hoped for the wrong kind of kingdom made Jesus offensive and Israel culpable at the same time. Our second part here also finds Jesus’ view of the kingdom offensive to ancients and moderns, but for a different reason ...
Many Christians struggle with, what is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? What is the unforgivable sin? Have I committed it? Many Christians feel tortured about this, even, and it can torment them.
I think a helpful way to think about it is the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, the unforgivable sin, I think it’s the same sin as mortal sin in 1 John 5, the sin unto death. I think it’s the same sin as what we find in the warning passages in Hebrews, crucifying Christ again, trampling him under foot is the expression used. Outraging the Spirit, right? Insulting the Spirit of grace.
There’s a variety of ways that Scripture talks about what this sin is. In the historical context of the gospels, when Jesus talks about the blasphemy against the Spirit, who’s committed that sin? It’s the Pharisees. How have they committed that sin? They have attributed to the devil what Jesus Christ has done.
So Jesus Christ has healed a person who had a demon and he heals them and they say, “That’s not the work of God, that’s the work of the devil.” I think that’s immediately helpful. Can a Christian commit that sin? Can a Christian look at the work of Jesus Christ, can someone who believes in Jesus look at the work of Jesus Christ and say, “No, that’s the work of the devil”? I’d say, no, no Christian can, no Christian will ever commit that sin. And those who have committed that sin, they don’t care.
If you look at the work of Jesus, if you look at the work of the Spirit of God and you say, That’s the work of the devil, that’s demonic, that’s fundamentally evil, you’re not tortured by that, you think the other side is actually evil and contrary to the things of God, if you even believe in God.
So no Christian should fear, it’s often been said, but it’s true. If you fear that you’ve committed this sin, if you’re tortured by that, then you almost certainly haven’t committed that sin.
Anyone who wants to turn to Christ in repentance and faith, anyone who comes to him and says, “I’m sorry for my sins,” is forgiven. Those who have committed this sin, to put it another way, they never ever want to turn back. They’ve left Christianity behind, they’ve left Jesus Christ behind and how does it culminate in the gospels? They put Jesus to death. That’s the language of Hebrews again, isn’t it? They crucify the son of God, they utterly and totally reject him. No Christian does that, no Christian can do that.
Should we be concerned about sin in our lives? Absolutely. And we want to keep our hearts warm towards Jesus Christ. But the God who called us, he’ll keep us, he’ll preserve us and we will not repudiate him. The one who began a good work in us, Philippians 1:6, “will keep us until the day of Christ Jesus.”
The only real constants in life are death and taxes.
This old adage in the life of American culture reflects the sentiment that some things never change and some things are always changing. For example, those who are 60 years of age or older will vividly remember seeing specific aisles at the grocery store roped off to fulfill the “Sunday Blue Laws” that restricted the purchase of certain items on Sundays. On the other hand, most young people in America have no knowledge of such restrictions but could not fathom a world without social media. There is not a teenager in America who is not connected to social media in some form or fashion. Twenty years ago, no such social media existed. Today, according to the latest Pew report, 68 percent of all Americans utilize Facebook, as do 2 billion other people worldwide.
These changes are known as a paradigm shift. A paradigm shift is a change in thinking that results in a change of behavior. This shift reflects the globalized society that has rapidly developed since the turn of the 21st century.
How can this globalized society be properly explained? In recent months, a review of the last days of Princess Diana have flooded the airways with numerous implications; but, this one event is an excellent depiction of the globalized society that has evolved. From this one incident in August 1997, the ethnic diversity of our globalized society is clearly and vividly reflected. What we find is an English Princess with her Egyptian boyfriend in an auto accident in a French tunnel in a German car with a Dutch engine driven by a Belgian chauffeur who was high on Scottish whiskey being chased by Italian paparazzi on Japanese motorcycles with German cameras. The first doctor on the scene was an American.
Such a globalized setting is not unprecedented in history. In the first century, the capital of the province of Achaia was the city of Corinth, and it, too, reflects such globalization. After being destroyed by an invading Roman army in 146 B.C., it was rebuilt in 44 B.C. before Julius Caesar’s death and was established as a Roman colony for retired Roman soldiers.
Located on a four-mile-wide isthmus connecting the Greek Peloponnesian to the mainland, Corinth became a globalized city for numerous reasons:
- It was a city of banking and commerce. Having sea ports on both the east and west sides of the city, Corinth became a gateway of trade, which brought great wealth to its inhabitants.
- It was a religious city that housed the great Pantheon Temple along with numerous altars for the worship of the various Greek gods of the day.
- It was also a city of great entertainment. The Greeks invented athletic contests in honor of their gods. The Isthmian Games were staged every two years in Corinth. The Pythain games took place every four years near Delphi along with the most famous of the games, which were held at Olympia in honor of Zeus.
- Finally, Corinth was known as a city of great evil and debauchery. The term from which the name Corinth is derived was used in the arts and theater to describe a citizen of Corinth who always displayed a life of drunkenness and sinfulness.
These descriptors reflect many of the same aspects of our contemporary American culture. The United States of America is the wealthiest nation in the world, consumed only by a desire for more wealth. It lives to be constantly entertained. It is more religious than ever before, yet the level of sin and corruption is at the highest peak in the history of our country. Like Corinth, America needs a moral and spiritual change.
The apostle Paul saw the need of his day as a spiritual need, and his remedy for that globalized self-absorbed society was placing a priority on biblical preaching. What is biblical preaching? Numerous definitions for biblical preaching can be found in the homiletic community today. Some advocate a topical approach to exposition while others prefer the genre of the narrative storytelling method of the new homiletic.
Paul, too, faced a plethora of methods to the task of effective communication, but he reveals his theology of preaching in the first two chapters of the book of 1 Corinthians. Paul emphasized the importance of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. These chapters in 1 Corinthians tell much about the condition of the church of Corinth, but they also express Paul’s theology of preaching.
His theology of preaching involves a deep commitment to the proclamation of the Gospel as explained in the message of the cross of Christ. Paul vividly explains this in the first chapter, verse 17: “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel….” In like fashion, verse 21 says, “God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe”; and also verse 23: “but we preach Christ crucified.”
After Paul’s encounter with the philosophers of Athens at the Areopagus (Acts 17), rather than utilizing the skilled rhetorical tools of the wisdom teachers of his day, Paul’s passion was to simply preach the Gospel in the power of the Spirit and leave the results to God. This attitude expresses his understanding of biblical preaching.
At Southwestern Seminary, expository preaching has been refined to a more focused approach expressed as “text-driven” preaching. Rather than rely on the eloquence of man’s speech to enhance a topic or the use of some theatrical endeavor to impress the listener, the effective biblical preacher must be committed to interpreting the substance of a text in the context of the passage and communicate the truths revealed therein under the anointing of the Spirit of God.
This text-driven approach aims at allowing the preacher to simply be a tool in the work of interpretation and proclamation. Biblical, text-driven sermons that flow from the anointing of God to the people of God through the Word of God by the Spirit of God are the need of the hour.
No matter what the whimsical, emotional voice of the ever-changing tide of thought may be, the task and responsibility of the preacher is to be the faithful and passionate in delivering “the faith once delivered to the saints” to the glory of the Lord Jesus and the furtherance of the Kingdom. As Paul faced the folly of his first century cultural thinking and remained steadfast in the preaching of the Gospel, may the mandate of the 21st century preacher be reaffirmed, “God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” This is why the mandate of Southwestern Seminary is “Preach the Word, Reach the World.”
Pew Research Center, “Demographics of Social Media Users and Adoption in the United States.” Accessed on June 16, 2017 from http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheet/social-media.
Leonard Sweet, “What is Globalization? The Death of Princess Diana.” Accessed on January 14, 2006 from http://www.leonardsweet.org.
John MacArthur. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1 Corinthians. (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1984), vii-viii.
God tasks parents with the holy calling of raising our children, “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” In this our greatest task is to help them understand the Gospel so they might trust in Christ and be saved. The problem for parents is that we often have a difficult time discerning when our kids have truly come to Christ. Either we get excited that our kids are showing interest in the Gospel and pronounce them Christians too quickly or we are so afraid of them making a false profession of faith that we go a long time without treating them as a brother or sister in Christ.
As parents we do have some guidance in knowing if our children are truly in the faith. Everything that would be present in an adult’s conversion will be present in a child’s conversion, but it will show itself in a different manner. I was 19 when I came to Jesus, and was aware of my new life in Christ the moment it took place. At the same time we have stories like John Piper’s. He does not remember his conversion, but his mother was convinced he came to faith and he does not remember ever not believing since then.
We can never know beyond a shadow of a doubt if our child has actually trusted in Christ, but we can see evidences that point to a genuine conversion. Here are some questions we can ask as we attempt to discern whether or not our children have trusted in Christ.Is your child aware of their need for a savior?
Awareness of sin and the need for a savior is an absolute necessity in conversion. While a child will not have years of drunkenness or debauchery for which they should be ashamed, he will know he has sinned and needs to be forgiven. In Romans 2, Paul talks about the law being written on the heart of every person. We instinctively know we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
When your child tells you he wants to become a Christian or starts talking about baptism, ask him why he is thinking about this now. Draw out of him, in his words at his age level, whether he feels conviction for his sins and knows that he needs a Savior. Unless he is convinced of his sins, he cannot know that he has a problem from which he needs to be saved.Does your child understand Jesus’ death and resurrection?
If your child shows awareness of and conviction for sin, begin to talk to her about Jesus. You will not be looking for her to give a discourse on the hypostatic union or penal substitutionary atonement. Does she know Jesus is the son of God? Does she believe that he is real, and that he lived the perfect life we could never live?
Then you should move into a discussion about Jesus’ death and resurrection. Can she articulate the basic facts about Jesus’ death and resurrection? Again, you are not looking for a doctoral level treatise, but in her words can she tell you about what Jesus did for her. What you are looking for here is illumination. As she talks about Jesus, do you see an awareness that she understands and knows this at a heart level?Does your child believe she is saved by repentance and faith?
The other night we read about the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment so she could be healed in our family devotion. Jesus told her that her faith made her well. I took that opportunity to talk to our daughters about salvation being by faith alone. Their Dad is a pastor, their Grandfather is a pastor, their Uncle is a pastor, and their Great-Grandfather was a pastor. They never remember a time when they were not gathering with the church each Sunday and never remember a time when they were not hearing the Gospel in family devotions and in discussions during everyday life, so I wanted to make sure they heard a clear reminder that none of these things make them a Christian.
When your child approaches you about becoming a Christian, you must make sure that she gets this. “For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves.” The Scripture’s testimony is clear, and while your child may not be able to give you an excursus on justification by faith alone and imputed righteousness, you do want her to evidence that she knows she must repent and trust in Jesus. Does she understand that her works or her baptism don’t make her a Christian, but that repentance and trust in Jesus do? Does she have childlike faith in Jesus Christ alone?Is your child showing signs of new life?
Seeing signs of the work of the Spirit in your child’s life is not as evident as it would be in an adult. Your six-year old is not going to have the same kind of testimony that a man with a notorious past would have, but his salvation is just a miraculous. If he has trusted in Jesus, he has been born again and the Holy Spirit indwells him. He will shows evidences of conversion.
If believers grow in conviction over our sins, compassion for other people, and display the fruit of the Spirit, then this will be present in your child’s life. It will be there in childlike form, but it will be there. You will also start to see the lights come on for him spiritually. He will start to understand more of God’s truth and demonstrate a greater awareness of God’s work in his life. As you observe his life, do you see signs of the Spirit’s work in him?Is your child free from external pressures?
The invitation system, a pressure-packed VBS or kids’ camp, and friends getting baptized can start putting pressure on your child to make a profession of faith without actually understanding the Gospel. Often children want to know why they can’t take Communion, and hear the answer, “because you haven’t been baptized yet.” In their minds the solution seems simple, “then let me get baptized so I can take Communion.”
You can never know for certain that your child has pure motives in his desire to become to profess Christ, but you should examine to the best of your ability any outside forces that may be exerting pressure on him. Ask him what made him start thinking about this. It may have been a friend’s baptism, but what about the event made him start pondering it for himself? Communion may have sparked an interest in him, but does he just want to take the bread and juice, or did hearing the meaning of Communion draw him to Jesus? These are all factors for you to ask about, think through, and pray over.Always bring the gospel to your children
Your child does not get a visible mark on her forehead or a stripe on her back when she comes to Jesus, so you have to talk, pray, and discern. Invite your pastor in to talk to your child and ask questions. He may be able to see and hear things you don’t.
Most of all though, keep putting the Gospel in front of your children. Talk about it in everyday life, in family devotions, and around the table after Sunday worship. Sing songs, pray over your kids, and repent to them when you have wronged them. God’s word never returns void, our labor in the Lord is not in vain, and in due time we will sow if we reap, so take every opportunity to tell and show your kids that Jesus is better than life.
Teen Vogue, a magazine targeting 11- to 17-year-olds girls, recently published a how-to article instructing teens how to perform anal sex. This article is on the heels of a recent article on how to masturbate if you are a male and a similar article on how to masturbate if you are female. All three articles are written by Gigi Engle, a self-proclaimed writer, sex educator and feminist activist. In the “anal 101” article, Engle states that anal sex is a “perfectly natural way to engage in sexual activity” and that “there is no wrong way to experience sexuality.” The truth of God’s Word opposes both of these statements.
Obviously, this article promotes a troubling agenda aimed at teenagers that is counter to biblical commands and principles. The four most egregious areas are:
- Promotion of sex outside of marriage. Engle’s article promotes teens having premarital sex. The Bible is quite clear that premarital sex is outside the confines of the biblical covenant of marriage. This distorted form of sexuality (sexual immorality) is referred to as fornication or sin (Hebrews 13:4, Matthew 15:19).
- Promotion of homosexuality. Engle’s article purports it is helping “LGBTQ young people.” God’s Word is clear that homosexuality is a sin. The biblical basis that homosexuality is a sin begins in Genesis 1:27-28 and Genesis 2:24. Here, God defines the institution of marriage (He’s the only one who can since He created it). He ordains it as a permanent union of one man and one woman. Jesus also reaffirms marriage as a sacred, monogamous and life-long institution joining one man and one woman in Matthew 19:4-6. Marriage is a covenant relationship and an institution established by God and is not simply a human social construct. ANY sexual behavior outside the husband/wife marriage relationship is sinful, including premarital sex, adultery, bestiality, pornography and homosexuality. The Bible speaks of the immorality of homosexual behavior in Genesis 19:1-27, Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, Romans 1:18-27, and 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.
- Promotion of sex as recreation. Engle’s article promotes a counterfeit sexual morality by promoting sexual activity among teenagers as recreation. God intended so much more for sex. Sex is a coordinating sign of the covenant of marriage, a physical reflection of the one-flesh union (Genesis 2:24). Within the confines of marriage, sex is intended for procreation (Genesis 1:28, 4:1), unity (Genesis 2:23-24), sexual purity (1 Corinthians 7:1-9), and pleasure (Proverbs 5:15-23, Song of Solomon).
- Promotion of being unwise. The Bible calls us to be wise and not foolish (Proverbs 3, Ephesians 5:17). Engle’s article fails to state the wealth of medical evidence that states that anal sex is neither healthy nor safe. Anal sex can lead to tissue damage, including hemorrhoids, damage to sphincter muscles, anal fissures, and colonic perforation. Moreover, there is a high risk of developing fecal incontinence, infection, transmission of STDs, and anal cancer (due to infection by human papilloma virus).
Parents and the church need to counter the culture by teaching teenagers to be in Christ and not in vogue. In the truest sense, we need to teach teenagers to be in the world and not of the world (Romans 12:2, 1 John 2:15-17). Parents and pastors cannot be silent on the topics of sex and sexuality with teenagers. The world definitely is having the conversation—and not for teenagers’ eternal good.
 This post focuses on anal sex and teenagers. A natural extension I’m often asked in The Christian Home class I teach at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is whether anal sex is permitted within the confines of marriage. Although the wisdom principle (number 4 above) should apply, I offer the following three-step rubric for married couples to use in evaluating sexual practices: (1) Is a given sexual practice or activity prohibited in Scripture? Does it violate Scriptural moral principles? (2) Is a given sexual practice or activity beneficial or harmful (physically, emotionally and spiritually) (Romans 13:12-14)? (3) Does a given sexual practice or activity involve persons outside the marriage relationship (Hebrews 13:4)?
Given the recent stunning ruling against Barronelle Stutzman, the 72-year old grandma who was sued for running her business according to her deepest moral and religious convictions, it is more critical than ever for Christians to be ready to make a defense for religious freedom. The following essay comes from my recent book A New Kind of Apologist, and is written by James Tonkowich. This article is longer than a typical blog, but please take the time to read it carefully and help spread the word. Christians simply must be able to make a case for religious liberty today.
Dear Dr. Craig,
I have been enjoying your videos and podcasts about your study of the atonement. I have to admit though, that as of right now I don't accept penal substitution. Though I grew up with this view, I now hold a combination of the recapitulation and satisfaction theories. To briefly summarize for the readers, the recapitulation theory teaches that Jesus became like us and did what we should have done, so that in him, we might become like him and do what he did. This is perhaps the oldest theory of the atonement and is the basis for many later theories. The satisfaction theory of St. Anselm adds that Jesus's self sacrificial obedience served as restitution for our sins, or as Anselm calls it, satisfaction. In my opinion, these theories together are more Biblical and intellectually satisfying than penal substitution ...
Stretching from the time of Moses (Psalm 90) to the exile of Israel (Psalm 126 or 137), the Psalms as we know them—150 songs ordered in five books—took a long time to write. So, how do we read them in their historical context? What is their historical context? And how do we sing them today, knowing that at least some of them were first written and sung in Solomon’s temple (cp. 2 Chronicles 5:13 and Psalm 136)?
The answer, I believe, is to read them with multiple historical contexts in mind. This is not to change the author’s original intent, but to recognize that through the history of redemption (and the progress of revelation), the inspired Word of God, especially the Psalms, found multiple literary settings whereby God led his people with his Word.
Accordingly, we who come at the end of the line, or better, we on whom the end of the ages have come (1 Corinthians 10:11), must learn how to read Israel’s songbook as part of the deposit of faith given to the church (see 2 Timothy 3:16–17). But how do we do that? My proposal is that we learn how to sing the Psalms in four keys, a practice outlined by Bruce Waltke and Franz Delitzsch.
First, Bruce Waltke, in his essay, “A Canonical Process Approach to the Psalms,” (found in Tradition and Testament: Essays in Honor of Charles Lee Feinberg, 3–18) observes four historical phases in the development of the Psalms. He writes,
The four distinct points in the progressive perception and revelation of the text occasioned by the enlarging of the canon are: (1) the meaning of the psalm to the original poet, (2) its meaning in the earlier collections of psalms associated with the First Temple, (3) its meaning in the final and complete Old Testament canon associated with the Second Temple, and  its meaning in the full canon of the Bible including the New Testament with its presentation of Jesus as the Christ. (9)
Interestingly, Waltke is not the first to think of the Psalms in this way. He cites from Franz Delitzsch classic commentary on the Psalms:
The expositor of the Psalms can place himself on the standpoint of the poet, or the standpoint of the Old Testament church, or the standpoint of the church of the present dispensation–a primary condition of exegetical progress is the keeping of these three standpoints distinct and, in accordance, therewith, the distinguishing between the two Testaments, and in general between different steps in the development of the revelation, and in the perception of the plan of redemption. (Biblical Commentary on the Psalms, trans. Francis Bolton, 64)
Indeed, whether from three “standpoints” or four “stages,” the New Testament believer must give attention to the way in which the Psalms have various historical contexts. Only then can we apply the Psalms to ourselves, avoiding both extra-textual allegory and Christ-less historicism.Singing the Psalms in four keys
Now, I can imagine that the prospect of reading the Psalms with four stages in view might seem a little daunting. So here is a memory device that might help.
Just as songs can be sung in different keys, I suggest you think of singing the Psalms in four keys. Indeed, in any given moment you may only read the Psalm in one key, but we must be aware of the others. Only when we pay attention to all four keys do we have the full understanding of the Psalms in their historical context. Here are the four keys.
- The key of D sets the individual Psalm in its original setting. ‘D’ stands for David or any of the other historical authors of the Psalms. Psalms which have historical superscripts help us immensely here. In some cases, we do not know the details of the historical setting. But we know from the other Psalms, that each Psalm originally possessed an historical setting where the Psalm originated.
- The key of E sets the individual Psalm in the context of the Psalter itself. ‘E’ stands for Exile, the place where the Psalter in its canonical form arose. Whereas the ‘D’ key focuses on the original historical setting, this key focuses on the literary setting. The whole Psalter was written to post-exilic Israel, so there is an historical setting. But this key helps us most carefully with the arrangement and messianic message of the Psalter.
- The key of C sets the individual Psalm in the context of the Bible as a whole. ‘C’ stands for Christ, the Messiah of whom the Psalter speaks. While many Psalms speak of David or his son Solomon, the ultimate aim is that of Christ. It is this reason why Acts 4:25, quoting Psalm 16, can say that David spoke of Christ (“For David says concerning him”). In the key of D, Psalm 16 may not have spoken of Christ, but very shortly, as David’s song was put in the key of E, it would soon be pointing forward to the messiah. Accordingly, when Jesus proved to be the Messiah, the messianic intentions of Psalm 16 are clear.
In this way, we do not read the Psalms cherry-picking messianic psalms. Rather, as Waltke rightly observes, “In all fairness, it seems as though the writers of the New Testament are not attempting to identify and limit the psalms that prefigure Christ but rather are assuming that the Psalter as a whole has Jesus Christ in view and that this should be the normative way of interpreting the psalms” (7). The whole of the Psalter is messianic and should be read accordingly.
- The key of F applies the Psalms to God’s people in union with Christ. ‘F’ stands for fellowship and represents the spiritual union we have with the Christ, of whom the Psalms are ultimately directed. Truly, we may often intuitively translate the Psalms into this key. It would be laborious to always work through each key to get here. Daily devotions may and should live in this key. Still, it is important to know how and why we can sing and pray the Psalms for ourselves. Likewise, in applying them to ourselves, we should not miss who the king is and who the worshipers are. Without attention to the previous keys, we may easily employ messianic psalms for our own kingdoms (see Pss 20–21). However, by increasing our awareness of keys D, E, and C, we should avoid praying, “My kingdom come.”
Indeed, only as we read the Psalms in these four contexts can we rightly understand them.Learning to play the four keys
Again, we need not attend to every key in every sermon or prayer. But the reason why we can apply these temple songs of Israel to ourselves today is because of their progressive nature. What was written by David and Asaph and the sons of Korah was taken up and collected in the temple; then in time it was arranged as we have it in the Psalter. Finally, in the fullness of time, we see who the Psalms (especially Books 4 and 5) anticipated, and we can read the whole thing as anticipating Jesus Christ. Just read how Peter preached Psalm 16 in Acts 2 or the author of Hebrews quoted Psalms 2, 8, 45, 102, 104, and 110 in Hebrews 1–2.
In sum, we should read, sing, and pray the Psalms as our own (cf. Col 3:16), but only because of the way Christ brings them to us. Accordingly, as we interpret them, we should be aware of the way the Psalms spoke to him and about him. Only then, in union with him, can we make them our own—as sons and daughters grafted into the vine of Christ. To make this kind of personal application is in no way allegorical, it is Christian. It honors the history of the Psalms and the wisdom of God who inspired, preserved, focused (in Christ), and amplified their message.
Let us take up the Psalms then and behold the way in which Christ emerges from their lyrics. Let us give praise to God for the Psalms and praise him with the Psalms.
La Reforma y las Indulgencias, Pasadas y Actuales / The Reformation and Indulgences, Both Past and Present
En este año se celebra alrededor del mundo los 500 años del inicio de lo que se conoce como La Reforma protestante. El 31 de octubre de 1517 el monje agustino Martín Lutero clavó en la puerta de la Iglesia del Castillo en Wittenberg en Alemania 95 tesis en las que criticaba abiertamente las ventas de indulgencias de la iglesia católica romana. Lutero escogió ese día deliberadamente ya que era la víspera del Día de Todos los Santos y tanto la facultad de la universidad como muchos fieles asistían a la iglesia. Lutero inicialmente no tenía la intención de romper con la iglesia romana sino enfatizar la supremacía del evangelio de Cristo basada en su simplicidad y a la vez en su gran profundidad ...
This summer, as part of my participation in Talbot’s Kern Foundation reading group, I had the opportunity to travel to Grand Rapids and attend a 4-day think tank called Acton University. This was my first time participating in a think tank (unless you count my years watching MacGyver problem-solve for the Phoenix Foundation), and it was an experience! The annual event brings together around 1000 scholars, students, businesspeople, and leaders from over 75 countries and seeks to provide “an opportunity to deepen one’s knowledge and integrate philosophy, theology, business, development – with sound, market based, economics” (http://university.acton.org/). The daily program consisted of several parallel presentations (in fact, Talbot’s own Dr. Scott Rae was a presenter), a fabulous dinner designed to foster new relationships and stimulate conversations, and it closed each night with a plenary talk ...
Recently I had the chance to partner with Awana to create a yearlong, systematic, top-quality apologetics curriculum for students. It is the product of my work with students for the past two decades. My friend Tim Fox (Orthodox Fox) at Free Thinking Ministries was kind enough to briefly interview me about the project. And he gave me permission to post the original interview here too. Enjoy!
Revivals are sometimes said to be a thing of the past, a holdover from an earlier era of the church that is no longer practical in our postmodern age. Well, the last time I checked, God is still in the business of converting souls, whether it be one at a time or through large-scale awakenings. If He desires, He can again bring about revival, one that outshines anything we have seen before. After all, He “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).
There was a day in America when revivals were commonplace. From 1720 until 1860, a steady stream of revivals dotted the American landscape, a factor that led many pastors and theologians to reflect deeply on the nature of revival and publish works answering numerous questions associated with it:
- What is the nature of salvation?
- Is there a standard sequence one experiences in conversion?
- How are ministers to preach and counsel individuals seeking salvation?
These questions occupied dozens of publications in the period, and together they formed a coherent genre in American theological literature. I have examined these writings in my recent book Theologies of the American Revivalists: From Whitefield to Finney (IVP Academic, 2017). Here are several fun facts about the history of revival theology in early America you may not be aware of:
1. Did you know that conversions generally were “longer” in the First Great Awakening than in the Second Great Awakening?
When people experienced conversion during the First Great Awakening (1740s), it was not uncommon for their experience to take days or weeks to be completed. This was because folks understood conversion to include a three-part process that included conviction of sin, conversion (repentance and faith), and consolation (assurance of salvation). Many believed they could only truly believe after they had identified the fruit of the Spirit in their lives, such as a love for Christ and a hearty desire to trust Him for salvation. Because it took time to identify these fruits, one’s conversion experience often took a long time.
By the Second Great Awakening (early 1800s), this situation had changed because revivalists came to associate salvation with an act of the will. After all, they reasoned, a person is converted when one has believed, trusted, or placed his faith in Christ—all acts of the will. This shift was the result of Methodist expansion, which popularized Arminianism, and New England Calvinism, which stressed the sinner’s natural ability to believe (i.e. sinners can believe if they so desire) in spite of his moral inability to do so (he will not trust Christ because an unbeliever does not want to). In short, this shift generally reduced the length of a convert’s conversion experiences.
2. Did you know Charles Finney believed that revival was impossible without the Holy Spirit?
Charles Finney, the influential revivalist of the 1820s and ‘30s, is often portrayed by his critics as a mechanizer of ministry who so over-emphasized the human side of revival that he effectively left the Holy Spirit out of the process. While there were definitely problems with his theology, this specific criticism is not one of them, for he repeatedly stressed the necessity of the Holy Spirit in conversion and revival.
The “truth by itself,” he noted, “will never produce the effect [of salvation], with the Spirit of God.” Elsewhere, he remarked that “unless God interpose the influence of his Spirit, not a man on earth will ever obey the commands of God.”
When Finney described the relationship between the various agents of salvation (God, the preacher, and the convert), he often employed an illustration. Imagine a man walking toward Niagara Falls deep in thought, oblivious to the danger in front of him. Just when he is about to take to final step over the edge, a bystander cries out, “Stop!” disturbing the man’s dreamy state, whereupon he turns aghast, stops walking, and is saved. When we ask, “Who saved this man’s life?” Finney said there are multiple answers: the bystander; the message itself (“Stop!”); the man who stopped walking; and God, who oversaw the process.
The parallels with revival are obvious, but Finney did note there is one big difference between this illustration and revival. In salvation, the Holy Spirit must do far more than merely ensure that the mind hears the message correctly. He must pour a torrent of motives into the soul in order to persuade sinners to turn from their sin: “because no human persuasion,” he preached, “… will cause him to turn; therefore the Spirit of God must interpose [His work] to shake [the sinner’s] preference, and turn him back from hell.”
3. Did you know that Calvinism and activism go together?
Calvinist critics often point out that Calvinism inherently undermines evangelistic activity: If God is infallibly going to save His elect, why try to add to His sovereign work? This reasoning may appear sound at first, until we actually look into history and find activistic language in the sermons of Calvinist evangelists.
Notice, for instance, the repeated language of “choosing” in Jonathan Edwards’ sermon “The Excellency of Christ”:
Let what has been said be improved to induce you to love the Lord Jesus Christ, and choose him for your friend and portion…. Would you choose a friend that is a person of great dignity? … Christ is infinitely above you, and above all the princes of the earth … [yet he] offers himself to you, in the nearest and dearest friendship. Would you choose to have a friend not only great but good? In Christ, infinite greatness and infinite good meet together.
Jonathan Dickinson, a contemporary of Edwards, noted that though sinners cannot save themselves, there is something they can do in seeking salvation. “Labor after a lively impression of your incapacity to produce this grace in yourselves…. And labor to exercise faith in Christ. Though you cannot work this grace in yourselves; yet if ever you obtain it you yourselves must use and exercise it.” In short, activism, both on the part of the minister and the seeker, was inherent in the evangelistic methodology of Calvinist revivalists.
4. Did you know that early Restorationists (Churches of Christ) rejected emotional conversion experiences?
The frontier revivals of the Second Great Awakening were known for their deeply emotional preaching and dramatic conversions, where persons experienced strange “charismatic” phenomena like falling over, the “jerks,” and barking. There was widespread criticism of these revivals. Alexander Campbell, an early leader of the Restoration movement, offered a theological response to them. Campbell argued that the Old Testament moral law no longer applies in this age of the Gospel and therefore preachers should not preach it to generate conviction as a path to conversion. It is not necessary, he wrote, for sinners to experience “some terrible process of terror and despair through which a person must pass, as through the pious Bunyan’s slough of Despond, before he can believe the gospel.” All that is required from the would-be convert is belief in Christ.
Campbell maintained that faith is similar to the process of learning. In both, we intellectually become aware of new ideas and, based upon certain criteria, affirm them to be true. Faith is merely the process of affirming the truthfulness of the apostles’ testimonies; there is no emotional component inherent in it. Thus, Campbell downplayed emotional conversion narratives and put forth what critics called a rationalistic view of faith and salvation.
American revivals are a fascinating topic to study. If we desire to see more of them, we might benefit by tapping into the wisdom of our evangelical forefathers in our efforts to construct a biblically mature revival theology.
Critics of the slogan “faith alone” often point out that Scripture only speaks once about whether we are justified by faith alone—and that text denies it: “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24, CSB).
What does James mean in saying we are justified by works?
I won’t defend the truth of justification by faith alone in detail, but it’s clearly taught, for example, in Romans 3:28: “A person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” Or, as Paul teaches in Romans 4:5, “God justifies the ungodly.” Both Abraham and David were justified by faith and not by works (Rom. 4:1–8; Gal. 3:6–9).
Salvation, as Paul elsewhere demonstrates, is “by grace” and “through faith” (Eph. 2:8–9). Works are excluded as the basis of salvation—otherwise people could boast about what they have done. Salvation by grace through faith highlights the amazing and comforting truth that salvation is the Lord’s work, not ours.
But does Paul contradict James?James and Works Righteousness
James 2:14–26 repeatedly argues that faith without works doesn’t save on the last day. Those who claim to have faith but lack good works aren’t saved by such a claiming faith (Jas. 2:14). James compares such faith to “words of love and comfort” given to someone who is cold and hungry. Such words are meaningless if not accompanied by actions to feed and clothe the person in need (2:15–16). So also, faith without works is “dead” and “useless” (2:17, 20, 26).
Faith that is merely intellectual, or faith that claims to believe but is bereft of any action, is no better than “the faith” of demons. After all, they subscribe to the orthodox belief that “God is one,” and they “shudder” in terror (2:19). James highlights that Abraham was “justified by works” in offering up Isaac (2:21), and Rahab the prostitute was “justified by works” in receiving the spies and protecting them from danger (2:25).More than intellectual belief
At first glance, it might seem James rejects justification by faith alone, but first glances aren’t enough when reading the Scriptures. We are called to read deeply and canonically. James doesn’t deny that faith saves; he rejects the notion that a particular kind of faith saves—a faith that doesn’t produce works. In short, faith that is merely intellectual assent is not saving faith.
Again, demons professed that Jesus is “the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24), but their belief in that truth didn’t save them. Even though they knew who Jesus was, they hated him. Saving faith, then, is the act of the entire person. It includes the will and the emotions, such that those who believe in Jesus give themselves to him.Faith alone justifies
Let’s think of it another way. Faith alone justifies, but only the kind of faith that inevitably produces good works. Now, such good works aren’t the basis of justification; indeed, they can’t be, for one sin makes you a lawbreaker (Jas. 2:10–11). Good works can’t function as the foundation of our justification because God demands perfection, and even after we are converted we continue to sin.
James, in fact, says this very thing in the next passage after discussing justification by works: “We all stumble in many ways” (3:2). The word “stumble” means “sin,” as the parallel text in James 2:10 shows. Every one of us without exception—including James (“we all”)—continue to sin.
Is he saying we sin only occasionally? Absolutely not. He says we all sin “in many ways.” We don’t just sin in a few ways, but in many. Since sin continues to characterize the lives of believers in remarkable ways, and since God demands perfection, works that justify can’t form the basis of our justification.Fruit, not root
How should we understand the works James requires? Certainly good works are necessary, for without them we will not be justified, but we have seen that they aren’t the necessary basis or foundation.
The best solution is to say they are the result and fruit of faith. True faith expresses it in works. Paul actually says the same thing, teaching what ultimately matters is “faith expressing itself through love” (Gal. 5:6, NIV).
The concept isn’t hard to understand. If I said the room you were in was about to blow up in one minute, and you believed me, desired to live, and were physically able to leave, you would hurry to exit. True faith would lead to works! Leaving the room would be the result of your faith. So it’s right to say, as the Reformers did, that we are justified by faith alone, but that true faith is never alone. I would suggest James is teaching this very idea.
It isn’t as if our works save or justify in the sense that they qualify us to enter God’s presence—as if our virtue wins us God’s favor on the last day. James teaches that there is an organic relationship between genuine faith and works. If we truly trust Christ, that trust shows up in how we live. Works evidence our faith.Twin biblical truths
Why do Paul and James sound so different? Why does it appear at first glance they contradict? We need to remember that letters were written to specific situations facing specific churches. Paul wrote to churches where people were tempted to trust in their works for salvation, while James wrote to those who were disposed to think intellectual assent could save them.
Paul counteracts legalism, while James corrects antinomianism.
Of course, Paul rejected antinomianism as well: “I am warning you about these things—as I warned you before—that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:21). He also believed good works were necessary for eternal life, but both Paul and James believed such works were the fruit of saving faith, not the root.
In the beauty and completeness of God’s Word, Paul and James teach complementary, not contradictory, truths.