Monthly Archives: April 2011

Spurgeon’s 5 Rules for "Spiritualizing" a Text

I am in the midst of working on a piece outlining some guidelines for seeing Christ in the Old Testament without allegorizing or damaging the Old Testament texts themselves, and in my prep, I found these good rules of thumb from Charles Spurgeon. In his Lectures to My Students, the chapter titled “On Spiritualizing” isn’t about Christ in the Old Testament per se, but it does offer some great advice on how to (what Spurgeon calls) “spiritualise” a text without doing so excessively and inappropriately. Here are his rules:

1. Do not violently strain a text by illegitimately spiritualising.

Under this point, Spurgeon tells a story about a preacher who turned a proverb about gluttony into a warning against listening to bad preaching. This is an example of spiritualising that doesn’t find deeper or Christological truth beneath or beyond a text but patently denies the plain sense of the text to find a “higher” meaning. Spurgeon advises that good “spiritualising” never ignores the primary meaning of a text or violates good ol’ fashioned common sense.

2. Never spiritualise upon indelicate subjects.

This is a peculiar point, but apparently there were men in Spurgeon’s day who enjoyed turning some texts into references to things best not discussed in public. He is aiming at those who find sexual innuendo in everything. (I had an English professor who did that quite a bit, with every story, and I have no doubt if he would have ever found the Bible worth a second of his time, he would …

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The True Saints

Some of the old saints labored so hard to attain perfection that they lost the capacity to feel anything. When I was a monk I often wished I could see a saint. I pictured him as living in the wilderness, abstaining from meat and drink and living on roots and herbs and cold water. This weird conception of those awesome saints I had gained out of the books of the scholastics and church fathers. But we know now from the Scriptures who the true saints are. Not those who live a single life, or make a fetish of days, meats, clothes, and such things. The true saints are those who believe that they are justified by the death of Christ. Whenever Paul writes to the Christians here and there he calls them the holy children and heirs of God. All who believe in Christ, whether male or female, bond or free, are saints; not in view of their own works, but in view of the merits of God which they appropriate by faith. Their holiness is a gift and not their own personal achievement.

– Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians

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On Hired Hands

Via Zach Nielsen, I read this portion of an email Carl Trueman received:

“I worshipped this Sunday with my in-laws at their home church which is pastored by a man featured at this year’s [conference name supplied] with 6000 of my closest friends. My father-in-law has been dying for five years (renal failure) and is very likely within months of his death. I can’t get a pastor or elder from this congregation to come and visit him once, let alone make it a weekly priority to help him die well – in the full confidence of the Lord Jesus. But there’s time, mind you, for (yet another) conference.”

Trusting that this fellow really has tried to get an elder from his father-in-law’s church to visit him before he dies, this is unconscionable.

I know a pastor of a church who once said to someone asking about hospital visitation that he didn’t do it. Ever. Somebody would visit, but not him. He wasn’t saying it in terms of disdain, just matter-of-factly that that’s not in his particular job description.

I understand an individual pastor/elder not making every (or even most) hospital/deathbed visits. But for the life of me I cannot understand an individual pastor/elder making none.

Pastors, speakers, authors, bloggers: Your platform is not your grounds for pastoral legitimacy. It’s the other way around. And you might be able to fool your readers or wider audience, but you won’t be able to fool your local church for long. And you will never be able …

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The Dumbest Thing I’ve Ever Read in a Commentary


“Adultery. This is sexual unfaithfulness on the part of two persons, when either of them is married to a third person. It seems difficult to believe that a Christian would be guilty of such a violation, yet the writer knows of just such a case at this time . . .”

– Lehman Strauss, Devotional Studies in Galatians and Ephesians

This was written in 1957, of course, but was a Christian guilty of adultery so rare then? Or is my exasperation a result of anachronism? The statement comes across like he’s recounting an incident of spontaneous combustion or something.

Adultery is all over the Scriptures. I gotta figure it was all over the 1950’s too.

Or maybe it was invented by Don Draper the next decade.

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Endeavor to Stop Endeavoring

Galatians 2:17 is the five finger exploding heart death punch of Galatians 2:“But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not!”

As I studied last year for my sermon on Galatians 2:15-21, this verse gave me the most fits. It looks straightforward enough, but it is deceptively complex.

First, I am seeing Paul turning the language of the legalistic Judaizers on its head. There is an echo here of “Shall we sin all the more so that grace may abound?” The more I gnawed on Gal. 2:17 the more clearly I could see that Paul is sort of saying “If justification is not by faith alone in Christ alone, should we circumcise all the more so that justification may abound?” (And in Galatians 5:12 he does kind of say that.)

In a nutshell Paul is saying “If justification in Christ alone reckons us still ‘sinners,’ Christ’s work is worthless and he is a minister of sin.”

But something else catches my eye. Still playing off the Judaizing zeal, he uses the phrase “endeavor to be justified in Christ.” Why would he use the word “endeavor”? Isn’t the truth he’s proclaiming about the end of endeavoring to be justified? That justification comes via faith (not works) in the finished endeavor of Christ?

Yes, but there’s something else here besides just tweaking the legalistic “work” lingo. There is a very real sense in which we must endeavor to be justified …

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Abide In My Word

Our second question from John 8:31 is: What is Jesus referring to by the phrase, “my word”? “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.”

The word is singular, “my word,” not “my words.” This means that Jesus is thinking of the sum of all that he has taught. We could leave it at that: Jesus means “abide in the sum of all that Jesus taught.” But my guess is that Jesus wants us to ponder what the sum of that word is. And surely the answer to that is: He is the sum of his word. All his words in one way or another draw our attention to him.

Words like: “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35). “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). “I am not of this world” (John 8:23). “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11). “I am in the Father” (John 10:38). “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). When you take all his words together, they have one great focus—Jesus himself. “These are written—all these words are written—so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31). They all point to him.

Which is why when you get to chapter 15, Jesus can say, not only “abide in my word,” but “abide in me.” “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch” (John 15:6).

So the answer to our second question would be: The phrase “my word” …

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Not How It’s Supposed to Work, I Don’t Think

My only slightly changed re-creation of a blog comment exchange I read today:

Critic 1: We should live radically, like the Acts 2 church.

Critic 2: So I suppose you live on a farm, huh?

Critic 1: Actually, I do live on a farm. Your church should be radical.

Critic 2: I’m a missionary in a poor foreign nation.

[Awkward Silence]

I think to myself: Allrighty, then.

I wonder if this is what Paul meant about consuming each other. Like a snake eating its tail or something.

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Why Preaching is Vital in New England

(It’s always vital everywhere, but you know what I mean.)

Have you heard the joke about the New England father? He was so moved by his family — so in love with his dutiful, faithful wife; so proud and thankful for his hardworking, respectable sons; so taken with and enchanted by his daughters — that he almost told them so.

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The Resurrection and the Real World

Once upon a time in Nashville, I wrapped up a series on the kingdom called “Invasion: A People, A City, A Movement,” with a message on the church living the kingdom life missionally. There was a lot to pack in. The major textual thrusts were the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer, and Acts 2. I talked about living out the Great Commission by obeying the Great Commandment. I talked about the kingdom community running counter to culture by being typified by two things: Reconciliation (with God and with each other) and Exaltation (of Christ). I talked about racial reconciliation, forgiveness, spiritual values that run counter to worldly values (meekness, grieving with hope, turning the cheek, etc). I talked about a people passionate with the confession of Jesus as Lord conquering hell. I talked about eschatology: the gospel bearing fruit in the world, the kingdom conquering all other kingdoms, God being “all in all,” Christ’s resurrection being the firstfruits of ours, the work of Christ being the start of the “end times” like dawn is the start of the day, Christ dismissal of Satan in the wilderness, the paths being made straight, Christ setting people free from demonic possession, the kingdom being like a mustard seed that grows into a large plant, the kingdom being like leaven in dough, the kingdom filling all the world until the new heavens and new earth fill all in a sanctification not unlike the Spirit bearing fruit in our lives through personal sanctification.

Then I came home, …

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The Gospel Coalition talks to Scotty Smith, Mike Cosper, and Bob Kauflin about liturgy of worship. Those are guys worth listening to.

Every church has a liturgy. Open up your worship program/bulletin. Is the order of worship elements the same each week? That’s your liturgy.

What story does it tell?

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