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Passionately Pleading with God Is A Good Thing!

Mar 05, 2015 | Jason Helopoulos

Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

Do you passionately plead with God in prayer? Pleading is a good and necessary part of our Christian lives. We understand adoration, confession, supplication, and thanksgiving are good marks of a vibrant prayer life, but pleading is often neglected.

What is Pleading?

Pleading with God is that part of prayer (a subset of supplication) in which we argue our case with God, as Isaac Watts wonderfully says, “in a fervent yet humble manner.” It is not just petition, but petition well-reasoned. It is not just requesting, but passionately appealing. In pleading, we are making our case before God as to why He should grant our prayer request.

At first, this can seem awkward or inappropriate. Yet, we all would readily acknowledge that there is a natural impulse to plead our case. I never taught my children to do so, but they know how! It is natural to our persons and natural in our relationship with God. He doesn’t desire restrained requests. God is not looking for dispassionate, catatonic, listless disciples. And what is true of His disciples is also true of their prayers–He desires our passionate pleadings.

The Psalmist says, “Pour out your heart before him” (Psalm 62:8). He then offers these comforting words, “God is a refuge for us” (Psalm 62:8). We can pour out our hearts and need not shrink back in fear.

Pleading is biblical

The Syrophoencian woman does not hesitate to plead with Christ and she is rewarded with His merciful answer (Mark 7:24-30). Jeremiah cries out to the Lord, “Righteous are you, O Lord, when I complain to you; yet I would plead my case before you” (Jeremiah 12:1). Joshua pleads the case of the Israelites and the disgrace their annihilation would bring upon the name of God (Joshua 7:6-9); and God responds with His grace. Hezekiah pleads for his own life, “For Sheol does not thank you; death does not praise you; those who go down to the pit do not hope for your faithfulness. The living, the living, he thanks you” (Isaiah 38:18-19); and God grants him extended life. Our Lord tells the parable of the persistent widow and ends with the question, “And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night?” (Luke 18:7). This is just a small sampling. Passionate pleading occupies a real place in our prayer lives.

Safeguard

But notice Watts’ helpful safeguard. Pleading in prayer is only appropriate when practiced in a humble manner. We are to be passionate and fervent in our petition, but not proud or rude. We are subjects crying out to our King, servants bringing a request to our Lord, creatures petitioning the Creator. He lovingly desires our petitions, because they inherently recognize His sovereignty. We dare not turn the petition on its head by demanding a sovereign God follow our decree. Rather, we plead with Him, passionately, but humbly. We make our case, but rest content if He chooses not to answer our request. As Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

How? 

So how do we plead? As Watts points out, the “arguments are almost infinite.” However, he would suggest that almost every argument falls under one of the following headings:

  1. From the Greatness of Our Wants, Our Dangers or Our Sorrows

Example: My sorrows, O Lord, over press me and endanger my dishonoring of your name and your gospel. My pains and weaknesses hinder me from your service, that I am rendered useless upon earth and a burden to the earth.

  1. The Many Perfections of the Nature of God

Example: For your mercies’ sake, O Lord, save me. Your lovingkindness is infinite; let this infinite lovingkindness be displayed in my salvation. You are wise, O Lord; though my enemies are crafty, you can disappoint their devices, and you know how by your wondrous counsel to turn my sorrow into joy.

  1. Relationships God Has With Man

Example: Lord, you are my Creator, will you not have a desire to the work of your hands? You made me and fashioned me, and will you now destroy me? You are my governor and king; to whom should I fly for protection but to you, when the enemies of your honor and my soul beset me?

  1. The Various and Particular Promises of the Covenant of Grace

Example: Remember your Word is written in heaven; it is recorded among the articles of your sweet covenant, that I must receive light and love, and strength and joy and happiness. Are you not a faithful God to fulfill every one of those promises? What if heaven and earth pass away? Yet your covenant stands upon two immutable pillars, your promise and your oath.

  1. The Name and Honor of God in the World

Example: “For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it and will surround us and cut off our name from the earth. And what will you do for your great name?” (Joshua 7:9)

  1. Former Experiences of Ourselves and Others

Example: “In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.” (Psalm 22:4-5)

  1. Name and Mediation of our Lord Jesus Christ

Example: We would willingly request nothing at your hands, but what your own Son requests beforehand for us. Look upon the Lamb, as he had been slain, in the midst of the throne; look upon his pure and perfect righteousness and that blood with which our High Priest is entered into the highest heavens, and in which forever he appears before you to make intercession. Let every blessing be bestowed upon me which that blood did purchase and which that great, that infinite, petitioner pleads for at your right hand.

As Christians, we should not shrink from pleading in prayer to God. Rather, let it occupy a routine place in our prayer lives. In all humility, let us fervently make our case before the great God of the Heavens and the Earth, while resting and content in His sovereignty.

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Worship Is More Important Than Your Small Group

Mar 03, 2015 | Jason Helopoulos

Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

Like most of you, I love small groups. I love the “give and take” of the discussion. I love the interaction with others. I love the questions raised and the answers discovered. But as much as you and I may love small groups, corporate worship is more important.

Someone recently commented to me that pastors are the only ones who really enjoy Sunday mornings as the high point in the week. I hope not! This individual insisted that other Christians look forward to their small groups more than corporate worship. She said it is more exciting for the congregant to be in a small group where they can ask questions, pray for others, discuss their own views, and get to know one another more intimately. I understand this sentiment and appreciate the desire to connect with others, but in all humility I would say to this well-intentioned individual, “You don’t understand the distinct privilege corporate worship is. We are communing with the saints before the holy throne of a majestic God.”

Corporate Worship Is Unique

It is on the Lord’s Day, in the Lord’s house, with the Lord’s people, meeting with the Lord that the Christian should find their greatest delight. It should be the high-point of every Christian’s week. It is unlike any other assembly; no matter how enjoyable small groups or any other gathering may be. In 1 Corinthians 11:18, we read of instructions for “when you come together as a church,” indicating that there was a unique gathering “as a church” that was not the same as a few Christians hanging out and talking about Jesus. Hebrews 10:25 commands us not to neglect meeting together (literally, “do not forsake the assembly of yourselves”). The word for “meet together,” episynagogen, refers to the formal gathering of God’s people for worship, not just friends listening to sermon downloads in the same room or engaged in an inductive bible study. God’s people gather weekly for worship. Our lives are lived from Lord’s Day to Lord’s Day, as each week we long to “journey to the house of the Lord” to meet with our God and with His people.

The contention that corporate worship is not as stirring as small groups usually revolves around four complaints: it is too “pastorcentric,” passive, boring, and impersonal.

Too “Pastorcentric”

It is argued that, “As congregants, we merely sit in the pew and listen to a monologue for thirty minutes. Is the preacher the only one with a meaningful word to convey? It doesn’t seem right that one man would speak and everyone else should listen.” I would suggest that such views serve more as a reflection of our own vanity, self-importance, and individualistic Western cultural mindset than anything else? There is a reason the sermon has never been exchanged for a question and answer time. We gather to hear proclamation, not discussion. The pastor is ordained to minister the truth of God’s Word and administer His sacraments. Therefore, when he enters the pulpit, he is to speak and apply the Words of Christ to His people. The service is not “pastorcentric,” it is Christocentric. We need to hear a Word from outside of us. He is the Creator, we are the creation. He is the King, we are His subjects. He is the Head, we are the body. He speaks and we listen. Like Job, it is right and good that we would put our hands over our mouths and just listen to what the Scriptures tell us about who God is and what He requires of us (Job 40:4). Fallen human beings need the weekly routine of listening, which requires a halt to the questioning, philosophizing, and speculation we so often entertain. Mary was commended by the Lord because she chose what was best. She knew that when the Lord speaks, we are to listen, absorb, and delight in hearing His voice (Luke 10:38-42). There is a time and place for discussing and asking questions about the Word of God. It serves a real purpose, but frankly, it matters more what God has to say than what we have to say.

Too Passive

The second complaint lodged against corporate worship usually concerns the contention that it is too passive, whereas small groups provide more opportunity for involvement. This is an unfortunate misunderstanding of what happens in worship. Corporate worship is anything but passive. The congregation not only participates when it sings, but is to engage the prayers prayed, the confessions read, and the preaching of God’s word just as actively. In fact, every element of the service should engage our persons. We are to listen not only with our ears, but our very hearts. We are to have our minds renewed (Romans 12:2),  our souls pierced (Hebrews 4:12), and apply it to our lives that we might walk in truth (1 John 1:6). This occurs by attentive, edge-of-the-seat engaged, expectant and faith-filled listening. Corporate worship is not passive! If we are attending it rightly, we should not only leave the service refreshed in Christ, but expended.

Too Boring

The third complaint too often lodged against corporate worship is that it is boring compared to the interaction that occurs in small groups. What is boring about meeting with the living God of the universe? Ask Isaiah if it is boring to meet with a holy God(Isaiah 6). Ask John if it is boring to commune with a glorious God (Revelation 1). Ask the saints, angels, and living creatures in heaven if it is boring to be in the presence of the God of salvation (Revelation 5:6-14). Just as they are enjoying the very presence of the Lord and it fills them with delight, so it is to be with us. As real as the people are in our small group Bible studies, so as real is God’s presence with us in corporate worship. God is meeting with us by His Word and His Spirit. There is nothing boring about that!

Too Impersonal

The fourth complaint lodged against corporate worship in favor of small groups is that it is more impersonal. No doubt, we should enjoy the fellowship with others that small groups afford. Small groups serve a real purpose. As I said, I am thankful for them. Churches suffer when there is no forum for life on life discipleship, group Bible study, and a place to ask questions. Yet, our fellowship in corporate worship is no less real. When we sing, we are not only singing unto the Lord but to one another (Colossians 3:16). When prayer is offered by a pastor or elder, we are not silent spectators. Rather, we are joining our voices together as is demonstrated by our corporate “Amen” in closing. When the sacraments are taken they not only signify and seal our communion with the Lord, but with one another (1 Corinthians 11:17-12:31). We are one body, unified in one Lord, one Spirit, and one baptism (Ephesians 4:3-6). And nothing declares that louder than our partaking of the Lord’s Table together in worship. As wonderful as shared coffee cakes, hugs, and group discussions are, they do not surpass the intimacy we enjoy and are reminded of when we partake of the body and blood of the Lord with one another.

I love small groups. Don’t misunderstand me. They serve a real purpose in most churches, but their importance cannot and does not supersede our gathering together in corporate worship. We are the church. Worship is what we do. We gather together to meet with God, to hear His Word, to partake of His sacraments, to offer Him prayers and praise, to give our offerings, to confess our sins, to hear once again His assurance of pardoning grace, to dwell with Him. And we do this together every week. It becomes the very pattern of our lives. And though routine, it is the most important and glorious aspect of our lives.

 

 

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Monday Morning Humor

Mar 02, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

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You Cannot Have Two Masters

Feb 27, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

You can have two friends. You can have two hobbies. You can even have two jobs. But you cannot have two masters.

Slavery is absolute, it requires all of you—all your time, all your allegiance, all your work, all your heart, all your soul. You may try to have two masters, but it doesn’t work. You will end up being devoted to one and despising the other.

You may think you can be a Christian and love Jesus and go to church and be passionate about the gospel and have a little fling with money, or flirt with pride, or enjoy the fruits of the sexual revolution on the weekends. Not going to work. You can’t marry Jesus and date on the side.

What are you working for? What are you dreaming about? We are you living for? What can’t you live without?  If only I had _________, I’d be happy. What’s in that blank: kids, spouse, grandkids, house, job, health, wealth, prosperity?

Do you remember the parable of the sower and the soils? Each plant grows a little bit more and gets a little closer to making it. The one that looks good for quite awhile is the plant that grows up from the seed thrown among the thorns. It grows up for a time, but then gets choked out by deceitfulness of riches and the worries of life. Too many promising young “Christians” are done in by the cares of this world and the craziness of life. That happens, all the time. Maybe it’s happening to you. Maybe it’s happening to me.

We cannot serve two masters. Jesus isn’t looking for a 60-40 split. He demands total allegiance, complete surrender, unequivocal worship. Don’t buy the lies you’re hearing from money, pride, and sex. Only God gives you real worth. Only God gives you real affirmation. Only God will make you truly special and truly loved. Only God can give you real security. If you can only serve one master, make sure you choose wisely.

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Keeping His Commandments

Feb 26, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

1 John is clear: we are all sinners and we all sin (1 John 1:8, 10). If we say we have not sinned, we are not real Christians. But 1 John is also clear that if we do not keep God’s commandments, we are not real Christians either (1 John 2:3). So how can this be? Isn’t there an inconsistency here? We can’t be spiritual successes and spiritual failures at the same time.

Calvin understood this seeming inconsistency and provided a wonderfully balanced response. Commenting on 1 John 2:3 and wondering how anyone can be said to know God if the prerequisite for knowing God is keeping his commandments, Calvin replied:

To this I answer, that the Apostle is by no means inconsistent with himself; since before showed that all are guilty before God, he does not understand that those who keep his commandments wholly satisfy the law (no such example can be found in the world), but that they are such as strive, according to the capacity of human infirmity, to form their life in conformity to the will of God. For whenever Scripture speaks of the righteousness of the faithful, it does not exclude remission of sins, but on the contrary begins with it.

In this short paragraph we find much wisdom for navigating the sanctification debates in our own day. Calvin does not want to sidestep the whole point of 1 John 2:3. He acknowledges (as he must in order to be biblical) that obedience is a necessary component of Christian discipleship and of our Christian identity. And how does this fit with the earlier statements about our continuing sinfulness? Notice four points in Calvin’s response.

1. He does not take the language of “keep[ing] his commandments” to be a reference to sinless perfection. The obedience John expects of the Christian is not the obedience of fully satisfying the law of God. We need a category for non-meritorious, flawed, stumbling, but genuine obedience. Through his Son, God is pleased to accept that which is sincere, although accompanied with many imperfections (WCF 16.6).

2. He includes repentance as one aspect of holy living. Walking in the light means not only avoiding the deeds of darkness, but being honest about our sins and running to Christ for forgiveness and cleansing (1 John 1:5-7). Keeping the commandments requires a daily turning from sin and turning to Christ.

3. He is not embarrassed by the language of moral exertion. We must be passionate about pursuing Christlikeness. We must make an effort to be obedient to God’s commands. We should try hard to be holy. The Spirit will not allow us to be negligent, but will enable us to be diligent in stirring up the grace of God within us (WCF 16.3).

4. And yet, even this striving will be marked by weakness. The best we can do is to strive “according to the capacity of human infirmity.” As Calvin says later, while we will not love God perfectly we should nevertheless “aspire to this perfection according to the measure of grace given unto [us].”

Granted, there is much more to be said about sanctification than what Calvin touches upon in a few sentences. But affirming these four points–and not just affirming them in a statement of faith, but preaching them, tweeting them, writing about them, and commending them–would go a long way toward establishing a balanced and biblical approach to Christian discipleship. We strive, we aspire, we obey. We struggle, we sin, we repent. If our doctrine of sanctification does not embrace all this we are out of step with Calvin, out of step with the Reformed tradition, and, most importantly, out of step with the Bible itself.

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The Coptic Church and Chalcedon

Feb 24, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

Fourth_ecumenical_council_of_chalcedon_-_1876On February 14, twenty-one Egyptian Christians were brutally beheaded by Muslim radicals working for the Islamic State in Lybia. The Coptic Orthodox Church announced yesterday that the twenty-one victims will be inserted into the Coptic Synaxarium (the Oriental Church’s official list of martyrs) and commemorated in the church calendar as martyrs and saints. Christians of every denominational and doctrinal stripe have expressed outrage, sadness, and a sense of unity with their fallen brethren.

Which leads to an important question: how should we view the Coptic Orthodox Church?

This isn’t a bad question, provided we approach it in the right way. Let’s set aside the issue of what the twenty-one martyrs understood about monophysitism. That’s not unimportant, but as far as I know the information is unattainable. Besides, what is most needed at this point is prayer for the persecuted church and sympathy for the suffering. Thinking about these men who died because of their allegiance to Christ, men who belonged to one of the oldest church communions in the world, and men who called upon Jesus as they were murdered on the beach—trying to determine whether these men were actually Christians seems like remarkably poor form.

And yet, perhaps now is an appropriate time to consider more broadly and think more carefully about why some consider the Coptic Orthodox Church to be, well, unorthodox. While participating in a panel discussion at Ligonier last week, one of the first questions we were asked was about the twenty-one Coptic martyrs and the heresy of monophysitism (yes, it’s that kind of conference). So let’s step back and try to understand the history and theology behind what may be the oldest (formal) split in the church.

Two Natures, Without Division

To tell the story properly, we have to start with a man by the name of Nestorius. Nestorius was born sometime after 351 and died sometime before 451. He was the patriarch of Constantinople. His teaching was condemned by the third ecumenical council at Ephesus in 431. It’s unclear whether Nestorius was actually a Nestorian. What is clear is that Nestorius was not very careful in his theology and did not acquit himself very well when he was put on the spot to defend his views.

Nestorius, like most heretics, was intent on preserving the truth. Most ancient heretics did not set out to disrupt the church or teach false doctrine. They weren’t like Bart Ehrman with an ax to grind, or like Richard Dawkins with an anti-Christian agenda. Most heretics in the history of the church were trying to be biblical. They would have been professing Christians, with genuine concerns, who got key doctrines wrong and whose followers got things even more wrong.

Nestorius was concerned that people were calling Mary “the God-bearer” (theotokos). His concerns were probably not entirely unwarranted. God-bearer is an appropriate title for Mary, but only if the emphasis is on the Son and not Mary. It has happened since Nestorius, and most likely was happening in his day too, that people took the dangerous step from “Mary the bearer of God” to “Mary the divine Mother of God.” Theotokos is a proper term, but only with the proper qualifications.

Nestorius objected to this popular title. He could admit that Mary bore someone and that the someone was Jesus of Nazareth. But he reckoned that she gave birth to only the human nature of Christ. How could the divine nature be born? Divinity is eternal. It can’t be given birth. So, Mary, Nestorius reasoned, could be the mother of Jesus, but not the mother of God. If she was, then the Son of God was born, making him a creature with a beginning, and making us in our worship guilty of Arianism and of violating the second commandment.

Nestorius’ solution, or at least the theological solution that got attached to his name, was to argue for a dividing wall between the two natures. He knew the Son was God, and he knew the Son was a man. So Mary must be the mother of one half of Jesus, but not the other. She brought forth a man who was accompanied by the Logos. The two natures of Christ existed, not in hypostatic union, but in a kind of relational partnership.

Nestorius was opposed by Cyril of Alexandria (378-444), the brilliant apologist and implacable foe. He made two arguments against Nestorianism.

(1) If Mary is not theotokos, then instead of the incarnation of God himself, we have a human being born with the divine Logos. In other words, if Mary is not the God bearer, then we must understand the incarnation as something different than God becoming man. We have God coming alongside a man. No longer do we have the God-man Christ Jesus. We have Jesus Christ, a man with God in him. Thus, in Nestorianism, God is in Christ in nearly the same manner God is in us. The difference is not ontological; it is only a matter of degree. Nestorianism ends up making too little of Jesus and too much of us.

(2) If Mary is not theotokos, the relationship of Christ to humanity is changed. Only orthodox Christology allows for a real redemption of fallen man. Nestorianism’s problem was not with the two natures, but with the one person. Christ is fully God and fully man in Nestorianism, but he does not seem to be one person. Instead of two natures in a single self-conscious person, the two natures are next to each other with a moral and sympathetic union. The logic of Romans 5:19—that our salvation is accomplished through “the one man’s obedience”—will not hold. It’s only through the one man Jesus Christ, the union of humanity and deity, that we are made righteous.

Two Natures, Without Confusion

Which brings us to Eutychianism and Coptic Christians. Eutyches was a monk at a large monastery in Constantinople. He was born around 378 and died in 454. Again, it’s hard to determine what he actually taught. Eutyches himself was, to quote one author, “an aged and muddle-headed thinker.” So it’s unclear how much of Eutychianism came from Eutyches.

We do know that Eutyches had a strong anti-Nestorian bias. He was loathe to fall into the error of dividing Christ’s humanity from his divinity. So instead of division, we find in Eutychianism a confusion or mixture of the two persons. Eutyches taught that there was only one (mono) nature (physis) in Christ after the union of his divinity and humanity (hence, monophysitism).

Eutyches argued for the absorption of the human nature into the divine, the fusion of the two natures resulting in a tertium quid (third thing)–like mixing yellow and blue to get green. He said that Christ’s humanity was so united to his divinity that his humanity was not the same as ours (consubstantial). Christ was “of one substance with the Father” but not “of one substance with us.”

Eutyches was stubborn and not very careful in his theology. Yet, he was not without friends in high places. Eutyches was deposed in 448 by a Synod led by Archbishop Flavian. Eutyches complained to Pope Leo that he was treated unfairly. Leo, after some back and forth, wrote a letter to Flavian where he brilliantly surveyed all the Christological heresies and concluded that Eutyches was wrong. “In Christ Jesus,” he wrote, “neither Humanity without true Divinity, nor Divinity without true Humanity, may be believed to exist.”

But Eutyches was a friend to the Emperor, Theodosius II. In an effort to defend Eutyches, the emperor called a council in Ephesus in 449. The delegates were very pro-Eutyches and when legates from Pope Leo came to present their side, they weren’t even allowed to speak. Flavian was mauled and beat up, so badly in fact that he died a few days later. Eutychianism was vindicated, but the whole meeting was a sham. It’s now referred to as the “Robbers’ Synod.”

Later that year, Theodosius died in horse riding accident. His sister Pulcheria and her husband Marcian (not to be confused with the heretic Marcion) assumed the throne. Pulcheria agreed that the last synod was a travesty. So at the request of Pope Leo she convened a new synod at Chalcedon in 451, in what later would be considered the Fourth Ecumenical Council. The First Ecumenical Council in Nicea (325) rejected Arianism; the Second in Constantinople (381) rejected Docetism; the Third in Ephesus (431) rejected Nestorianism; and the Fourth in Chalcedon (451) rejected Eutychianism.

A Mess Worth Making?

Chalcedon didn’t settle everything. Some in the east still couldn’t swallow the doctrine of Christ’s two natures. Making things more confusing was the contested legacy of Cyril of Alexandria. Cyril was a legend already in his own age, the standard bearer for orthodoxy. He was the hero who led the charge against Nestorius, securing his condemnation at Ephesus in 431. If you agreed with Cyril, you were orthodox. If you didn’t, you probably weren’t. Unfortunately, Cyril had grown fond of an unhelpful anti-Nestorian phrase: “one incarnate nature of God the Word incarnate.” He thought this phrase came from Athanasius, but the phrase actually came from the heretic Apollinarius. Cyril used the phrase as a way to safeguard the unity of Christ against Nestorianism. In later years, Cyril was very clear that he still affirmed a full human nature and accepted the phrase “two natures” as long as it did not detract from the union of those two natures.

Many in the East, however, including in Cyril’s native Egypt, believed that embracing Chalcedon and its doctrine of the two natures of Christ was a repudiation of Cyril and his impeccable orthodoxy. This lead to a church split a millennium older than any Catholic-Protestant divisions. There are six churches known as the Old Oriental Orthodoxy (or Non-Chalcedonian Churches): Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopian, Eritrea, Malankara (Indian), and Armenian. These six churches have a completely different hierarchy and are not in communion with the rest of Eastern Orthodoxy (under the Patriarch of Constantinople) or with Rome (under the Bishop of Rome).

These churches have been called monophysite, but they reject the label, saying they too deny Eutychianism. They prefer to be called miaphysites because they want to emphasize the one (mia) nature, without rejecting the doctrine of the two natures of Christ.

So is the Coptic Orthodox Church actually orthodox? That depends on whom you ask, especially in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Some want to underline the fact that the church of the Old Oriental Orthodoxy still repudiate several ecumenical councils and have not formally embraced the Chalcedonian Definition. Others want to talk about the ecumenical dialogue of recent years in which leaders from the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox have agreed that they don’t disagree on the doctrine of the two natures, only on the way to say it. For my part, I’m unwilling to say the non-acceptance of Chalcedon is no big deal. And yet, it doesn’t seem in this insistence as if continued non-acceptance is the same as outright rejection or damnable heresy. There are historic and national reasons which may be obscuring a great deal of unity on Christological essentials.

No matter the confusion surrounding he Coptic Church, what is clear is that a half-way Christ cannot save. We need a Mediator who can lay a hand on us both. There is no room for a Nestorianism that threatens the unity of God’s work or a Eutychianism that threatens the fully human dimension of Christ’s work. At its best, all our doctrinal defining and theological wrangling is meant to preserve the simple, eminently biblical truth that Jesus Christ is both God and man, and as such, is uniquely and solely capable of saving the chosen ones of Adam’s helpless race.

UPDATE

In the comment thread and by personal correspondence, some have expressed other serious concerns with the Coptic Church besides their non-Chalcedonian Christology. My post was prompted by the question we received at the conference regarding the monophysite heresy. Hence, the focus of this post was on the history behind this Christological debate and the origination of the division between the Eastern Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox. I am not familiar enough with the inner workings (or out working) of Coptic Christianity to assess the church as a whole, nor was it my intention to do so.

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Monday Morning Humor

Feb 23, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

It’s Monday, again. But at least you’re not this guy.

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More Book Briefs

Feb 19, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

Bonus: more books! Here are several other books I’ve picked up in the last two months. Unlike yesterday’s haul, I haven’t read these cover to cover, but I’ve read parts of all of them and plan to consult them again in the future.

Stephen Westerholm, Justification Reconsidered: Rethinking a Pauline Theme (Eerdmans, 2013). “How can sinners find a gracious God? The question is hardly peculiar to the modern West; it was provoked by Paul’s message wherever he went. But Paul was commissioned, not to illuminate a crisis, but to present to a world under judgment a divine offer of salvation. . . .Paul’s answer was that sinners for whom Christ died are declared righteous by God when they place their faith in Jesus Christ” (22). This is why I find Westerholm’s book on justification so refreshing.

Michael Allen and Scott R. Swain, Reformed Catholicity: The Promise of Retrieval for Theology and Biblical Interpretation (Baker Academic, 2015). “Reformed catholicity is a theological sensibility, not a system. And this book is merely a manifesto, not a full-blown theological methodology. . . .Our thesis is that there are Reformed theological and ecclesiological warrants for pursuing a program of retrieval, that we can and should pursue catholicity on Protestant principles, and that pursuing this path holds promise for theological and spiritual renewal” (12-13). A thesis worth exploring. I hope to read more.

Bradley G. Green, Covenant and Commandment: Works, Obedience and Faithfulness in the Christian Life (Apollos, 2014). I’m a big fan of this series (even if they eschew the Oxford comma). Green makes a compelling case that “in the new covenant, works are a God-elicited and necessary part of the life of the converted person” and that is a “constant theme in the New Testament” (17).

 

Gregg R. Allision, Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment (Crossway, 2014). We’ve needed a book like this for awhile–a bona fide evangelical who takes a careful, measured look at official Roman Catholic dogma, not in order to take cheap potshots and not in a futile attempt to act like we agree on everything that really matters. I expect to use this resource often.

 

Sean Michael Lucas, On Being Presbyterian: Our Beliefs, Practices, and Stories (P&R Publishing, 2006). I got the book to brush up on my PCA history, but there is a plenty of good stuff here besides that one chapter. I enjoy reading Sean’s writing, especially his historical work.

 

 

Timothy Keller, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (Dutton, 2014). Practical, personal, and indebted to the Reformed tradition. I used the book when I was preaching through the Lord’s Prayer.

 

 

Harold J. Berman, Law and Revolution II: The Impact of the Protestant Reformations on the Western Legal Traditions (Belknap Press, 2003). Building on his earlier work which rooted the Western legal tradition in medieval Catholicism, Berman in this volume argues that the Western legal tradition was transformed by two subsequent revolutions: the sixteenth-century German Revolution (Lutheran Reformation) and the seventeenth-century English Revolution (Calvinist Reformation).

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Book Briefs

Feb 18, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a book blog. Here are some of the books I’ve read over the past couple months.

Lee Lofland, Police Procedure and Investigation: A Guide for Writers (Writer’s Digest Books, 2007). Written by a cop turned writer, this is a fascinating look at how police officers are trained, what they do, and how they think. Lofland overturns a number of myths (like cops shooting to wound, or firing warning shots, or going through the Miranda routine as they cuff someone). As Americans continue to wrestle with issues surrounding law enforcement and race, we would do well to understand the basic of how things work (or are supposed to work). The chapters on the police academy, officer equipment, and search and arrest procedures were especially helpful.

David M. Kennedy, Don’t Shoot: One Man, a Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America (Bloomsbury, 2011). Read this book. I doubt anyone will agree with everything in the book, but I’d be surprised if someone can’t learn anything from it. In my case, with little education and even less experience regarding violence in inner-city America, I felt like I was learning on every page. I hope to write a longer review in the weeks ahead. For now I’ll just say that the chapter “Across the Race Divide” helped me understand why my Black brothers and sisters are so wary of law enforcement in this country and why those Christians I know on the law enforcement side are so upset when they get painted as the bad guys. Kennedy’s book is part memoir, part sociology, and part activism. His analysis makes a lot of sense to me.

Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (Crown Business, 2014). As always, business books like this must be read with a discerning eye. I find that best-sellers in the “personal success” genre are almost always long on over-simplification and short on gospel wisdom. This doesn’t mean they are useless. Far from it. Maybe it’s just an indication that I’m still learning the lessons from Crazy Busy, but I appreciated the relentless reminder to find what is most important, focus on this one thing, and say no to almost everything else.

Oliver Crisp, Deviant Calvinism: Broadening Reformed Theology (Fortress Press, 2014). I already wrote a longer review; here was my conclusion: “This is not the first book I’ve read by Oliver Crisp, nor will it be the last. Even when exploring ‘liminal places,’ his theology is deeply informed by and respectful of the Reformed tradition. This work is no exception. The history is informative, the breadth of knowledge striking, and the arguments provocative. One can learn much from this book. My main complaint is that in the two instances meant to make the case for ‘deviant Calvinism,’ the first example (libertarian free will) is not really Calvinist and the second example (hypothetical universalism) is not all that deviant.”

Lee Gatiss, For Us and For Our Salvation: ‘Limited Atonement’ in the Bible, Doctrine, History, and Ministry (The Latimer Trust, 2012). A brief book filled with excellent work in each of the categories mentioned in the subtitle. This is a thoughtful, learned, and readable introduction for anyone trying to sort through the questions “For whom did Christ die?” and “What did Christ’s death accomplish?”

 

Gary Steward, Princeton Seminary (1812-1929): The Leaders’ Lives and Works. I love to read about Old Princeton. Here’s my blurb for the book: “Gary Steward is to be commended for providing an intelligent and edifying introduction to the theology and leaders of Old Princeton. Part biography and part doctrinal exploration, this volume can be profitably used both by those familiar with the Alexanders and Hodges and by those meeting them for the first time. The tone is warm and balanced, the content rich and accessible, this historical work careful and illuminating. I hope pastors, students, and anyone else interested in good theology and heartfelt piety will ‘take a few classes’ at Old Princeton. This book is a tremendous resource toward that end.”

Clarke D. Forsythe, Abuse of Discretion: The Inside Story of Roe v. Wade (Encounter Books, 2013). Based on a quarter-century of research, Forsythe offers an impressive, if at times disheartening, look at the legal, personal, and cultural issues that led to the legalization of abortion in America. Without ever sounding shrill, cantankerous, our alarmist, Forsythe explores a number of medical myths and judicial irregularities surrounding Roe. If you think Roe was a mistake, you should probably read this book. If you think it wasn’t, you definitely should.

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Away from the Body and at Home with the Lord

Feb 16, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

do-we-go-to-heaven-when-we-die_472_337_80In recent years a new pet peeve has arisen in some quarters of the church. I have often encountered, and not uncommonly from good evangelical brothers, an objection to casual references about “going to heaven when you die.” No doubt, much of this angst has trickled down from N.T. Wright, who expresses concern (in every book I’ve read from him) that traditional Christians have not allowed for God-rescuing-and-renewing-the-cosmos theology to really permeate their thinking. We’ve imagined an ethereal eternity of strumming harps and floating around in the great by and by. We’ve neglected the promise of resurrection. We’ve forgotten the hope of heaven come to earth.

Fair enough. I wholeheartedly agree that salvation is about more than being beamed up into the clouds. And yet, the whole heaven thing is pretty critical to folks when they come to their last breath. Dying saints may find it encouraging to know that the whole cosmos is going to be renewed at the end of the age, but they also can’t help but wonder what the next moment will be like when they reach the end of their days.

Where we go when we die is one of the most important questions a pastor has to answer. Good news about what God promises to do years or centuries from now will not suffice. It isn’t enough to tell our people that they’ll live in a new world at the renewal of all things. They want to know what tomorrow will be like. Will they be with Jesus in paradise or not? Paul talked about the heavenly dwelling waiting for him once he died (2 Cor. 5:1-10) and the joy he would have to depart and be with Christ (Phil. 1:19-26), so we ought to have no shame in glorying, as the saints for two millennia have done, that after death we live with God in heaven.

I understand that some good Christians have an underdeveloped eschatology that rarely touches on crucial New Testament themes. But many of these same Christians have a sweet and simple longing for heaven, a commendable confidence that because of Christ they will, in fact, die and go to a better place. Correcting eschatological imbalances is good, but not if it means undermining or minimizing one of the most precious promises in all the Bible; namely, that to live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21). Even the intermediate state is indescribably good–better to be away from the body and at home with the Lord is how Paul put it (2 Cor. 5:8).

In trumpeting the good news of cosmic renewal let us not lose sight of the hope that anchors the believer in hard times and is the reality awaiting us on the other side of suffering and death: we really do go to heaven when we die.

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