Monthly Archives: February 2011

Christ at the Center of Revival

He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.– John 16:14

“In all companies, on other days, on whatever occasions persons met together, Christ was to be heard of, and seen in the midst of them. Our young people, when they met, were wont to spend the time in talking of the excellency and dying love of JESUS CHRIST, the glory of the way of salvation, the wonderful, free, and sovereign grace of God, his glorious work in the conversion of a soul, the truth and certainty of the great things of God’s word, the sweetness of the views of his perfections, &c.”

– Jonathan Edwards, A Narrative of Surprising Conversions

It is the Spirit’s raison d’etre to shine the light on Christ. The Spirit is often called the “shy” Person of the Trinity because of this. He is content — no, zealous — to minister to the Church the Father’s blessings in the gospel of Jesus. He quickens us to desire Christ, illuminates the Scripture’s revelation of Christ, empowers us to receive Christ, and imparts Christ to us even in his own indwelling. For this reason, then, any church or movement’s claim of revival better have exaltation of Christ at its center, or it is not genuine revival.

At the front end of Paul’s excursus to the Corinthians on the sign-gift charismata, he reminds us: “Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ …

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Ad Hominem: or, Rob Bell Needs New PR

Without commenting either way on the whole “Is Rob Bell a universalist?” brouhaha, I would say it is rather interesting to read the endless defensive posturing of Bell’s admirers against the relentless offensive posturing of the (cue scare-quotes) “neo-Reformed.” John Piper says “Jump” and we say “How high?” We are lockstep with the Gospel Coalition. Calvinism is the Borg and we’ve been assimilated, no longer thinking for ourselves.

Does this happen? Undoubtedly. Yet a bit of self-reflection might have Bell’s many self-appointed PR managers wondering if they are doing the same. Four fingers pointing back at you and all that.*

What I mean is, it is interesting to read the accusations of mindless, lockstep fandom against some from the eager fandom of another. John Piper has “minions,” one of Rob Bell’s minions defenders said.

Just ’cause you’re not “of Cephas” doesn’t mean you’re not “of Apollos,” is what I’m sayin’.

* We should all do this introspection.

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Discontentment

Dearest Murktooth, my poppet, my pigsnie,

I am happy to charge you with the present task for your assigned patient. I am happy, because it is a rather easy task, evidence of your still remedial aptitude for temptations, which is itself evidence of your patient’s lack of growth. Your stagnation is your success, then, as it is so often in the infernal arts.

The task before you is this: stimulate discontent in your patient. This task is easy for not a few reasons, perhaps the chief of which is that you will have so much help from the sweet cacophony of messages from the surrounding culture, urgings and invitations to your patient to “Try this” and “Experience that,” to buy one and get more along with it, to flit about from promise to empty promise, to become a dilettante of the world’s conveyor belt of delights.One of the wonders of this onslaught of advertisement is that it doesn’t just pitch products to fulfill needs, but also pitches the needs themselves. Your work, Murktooth, is not cut out for you. It is laid out like buy-in-bulk candy for an untended baby.

Tend to your braying baby, Murktooth. Tell him that he deserves things that are designed to be indulgences. Tell him to desire things he would not have thought to desire himself, and then to see these desires as non-negotiables for his own happiness.

The clearest path to cultivating discontentment in your patient is to speak to him purely in …

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New England Then, as Now — And Now, as Then

“But what a dead and barren time has it now been, nor a great while, with all the churches of the Reformation. The golden showers have been restrained; the influences of the Spirit suspended; and the consequence has been, that the gospel has not had any eminent success. Conversions have been rare and dubious; few sons and daughters have been born to God and the hearts of Christians not so quickened, warmed and refreshed under the ordinances, as they have been. That this has been the sad state of religion among us in this land, for many years…”

This is a description of New England — of Massachusetts, specifically. Dry, spiritually parched, not much receptive to the gospel. It is a description of New England in the early 1700’s.

Then, as now, the spiritual landscape was discouraging. Then the Spirit did something extraordinary through the work of Jonathan Edwards and others in Massachusetts specifically and New England in general. This description is from W. Cooper in his Preface to one of Edwards’s works, describing the state of the place before the Spirit began His Great Awakening.

Now, as then, we are dry.

Now, as then, we only need the Spirit’s inclination to see revival.

Because of this, now, as then, things are not hopeless.

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How the Gospel Establishes the Law

This reminds me of what Theodorus long ago replied to Philocles, who was often hinting that he preached doctrines which tended to licentiousness because he enlarged diligently and frequently upon faith in Jesus Christ: “I preach salvation by Jesus Christ,” said Theodorus; “and give me leave to ask, whether you know what salvation by Christ means?” Philocles began to blush, and would have declined an answer.

“No,” said Theodorus, “you must permit me to insist upon a reply. Because if it is a right one, it will justify me and my conduct; if it is a wrong one, it will prove that you blame you know not what, and that you have more reason to inform yourself than to censure others.”

This disconcerted him still more, upon which Theodorus proceeded. “Salvation by Jesus Christ means not only a deliverance from the guilt, but also from the power of sin. `He gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity and redeem us from our vain conversation,’ as well as deliver us from the wrath to come. Go now, Philocles, and tell the world that, by teaching these doctrines, I promote the cause of licentiousness. And you will be just as rational, just as candid, just as true, as if you should affirm that the firemen, by running the engine and pouring in water, burnt your house to the ground, and laid your furniture in ashes.”

Indeed, both the doctrine and the grace of faith, are evidently, yea, and designedly injurious …

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And So Beware Innovation

The soundest and safest Christian reflection consists in “what you have received, not what you have thought up; a matter not of ingenuity, but of doctrine; not of private acquisition, but of public Tradition; a matter brought to you, not put forth by you, in which you must not be the author but the guardian, not the founder but the sharer, not the leader, but the follower.”

– Vincent of Lerins, quoted in Christopher Hall, Learning Theology with the Church Fathers (Intervarsity, 2002), 27.

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Like Its Source, Awesome

“As Jonathan conceived of grace given by God, however, it was, like its source, awesome. Where some might have pictured it as a sweet and gentle stream from which to drink as one saw fit, Jonathan saw God’s grace as a tide of goodness that overwhelmed the sinner. God, if He were truly divine, could not be small; grace, if it were truly grace, could not be weak.”

– Owen Strachan and Doug Sweeney, Jonathan Edwards: Lover of God (Chicago: Moody, 2010), 62.

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Questions of Conviction on Eternal Security

Because “eternal life” is integral to the gospel’s promise, I believe eternal security is an integral blessing of the gospel, and to deny it is to embrace a truncated gospel. Eternal security is near and dear to my heart, and I have been grateful and sobered by the many opportunities I have had to teach it to others in counseling situations over the last several years. Eternal insecurity, the doubting of grace for me, has been the number one counseling issue I have encountered in both Bible Belt Nashville and the traditionalist wasteland of rural Vermont.

When I reflect on God’s promise of eternal security for those in Christ, I go to these common Scriptures and posit these questions of conviction.

John 6:39And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.

1. How perfect is the Father’s will?2. How good is Jesus at his job?3. Does the word “nothing” mean nothing, or does it mean “some”?

John 6:40For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.

4. What does “eternal” mean?5. What does Jesus’ promise about the last day mean for “everyone who believes”?

Romans 8:28-30 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his …

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God, Send Us a Season of Glorious Disorder, or At Least a Desire for It

“O God, send us the Holy Ghost! Give us both the breath of spiritual life and the fire of unconquerable zeal! O Thou who art our God, answer us both by wind and fire, and then we shall see Thee to be God indeed. The kingdom comes not, and the work is flagging. Oh, that Thou wouldst send the wind and the fire! Thou wilt do this when we are all of one accord, all believing, all expecting, all prepared by prayer. Lord, bring us to this waiting state! God, send us a season of glorious disorder. Oh, for a sweep of the wind that will set the seas in motion, and make our ironclad brethren, now lying so quietly at anchor, to roll from stem to stem. Oh, for the fire to fall again-fire which shall affect the most stolid! Oh, that such fire might first sit upon the disciples and then fall all around! O God, Thou art ready to work with us today even as Thou didst then. Stay not, we beseech Thee, but work at once. Break down every barrier that hinders the incoming of Thy might! Give us both hearts of flame and tongues of fire to preach Thy reconciling Word, for Jesus’ sake!”

- Charles Spurgeon’s prayer for revival

I wonder if God is waiting until most of us are most desperate. If that’s the case, please, Spirit, place deep in our marrow the longing that provokes a prayer like Spurgeon’s. And then let us …

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Gospel-Shaped Prayers

Every Sunday our congregation recites a corporate prayer adapted from a passage of Scripture. We call this portion of our service “Praying the Scriptures Together,” and I write a new one for us each month. Here is an example, our prayer from January:

Father,

“Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?

“You have redeemed us in your steadfast love You have guided us by your strength to your holy abode.You have conquered the enemyAnd purchased us from the dead.You will plant us on your own mountain, the place, O LORD, which you have made for your abode, the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established. You, O LORD will reign forever and ever.”

We pray these things in Your Son, by Your Spirit, and for Your glory,

Amen.

(from Exodus 15:11-18)

You get the idea. (This month’s prayer is adapted from Daniel 9.)

Every one of these prayers ends the same way:

We pray these things in Your Son, by Your Spirit, and for Your glory: Amen.”

Why do we do this? Because it helps us to, in the words of Fred Sanders, “pray with the grain.” Here’s what Graham Cole says:

“To pray to the Father in the name of the Son in reliance upon the Spirit is to rehearse the very structure of the gospel.”

Adapting our prayers from Scripture and ending our prayers with this Trinitarian address is our way of praying gospel-shaped …

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