Identifying the Classics (3): Bible Reading as a Model (2)

GuidetoClassics-LRykenIn chapters 7 and 8 of Leland Ryken’s recent book, A Christian Guide to the Classics (Crossway, 2015), the author begins to identify the great classics of literature by breaking them down into categories (literary “taxonomy”).

And he starts with what he calls “the leading categories of literature that make up the domain of the classics” (p.61), by which he means the category of Christian literature (which is why chapters 7 and eight are titled “Christian Classics, Part 1 and Part 2”).

In our last few posts we began to look at that seventh chapter and took in some of Ryken’s thoughts on what makes a classic work of literature a Christian one (including that its content is distinctively Christian and that its viewpoint is decidedly Christian).

In the second half of “Christian Classics, Part 1” (Chap.7) Ryken looks at the “Bible reading as a model.” Here are his continued thoughts on this:

A second way in which the Bible serves as a model stems from its literary nature. The Bible gives us a definition of a Christian classic. It is not all equally literary, and this should keep us from overstating the case for the importance of literature (as though nonliterary forms of writing are inferior). But the Bible is predominantly literary. It overwhelmingly presents human experience in the concrete form of character, events, settings, and images. As a result, when we sit down to read a Christian classic, we are freed from anxiety about the worthiness of what we are about to do. Additionally, the Bible is a book overflowing with literary form and technique. If we can give ourselves to literary form when reading the Bible, we can do it with other Christian classics.

To which he adds:

By meeting all the criteria of being literary, the Bible shows us that before a work can be a Christian classic, it needs to be a classic. It needs to meet ordinary criteria of literary excellence. There is a place for expository religious writing, but a work of literature needs to be literary. Religious content by itself does not produce a Christian classic (p.67).

Clearly, the Bible is much more than merely a literary classic (cf. Ryken’s thoughts on this posted earlier). But, at a basic level of a Christian classic, the written Word of God is certainly a marvel of literature. We would expect nothing less from its divine Author, the sovereign Maker of language and the Master of revelation.

Published in: on February 28, 2017 at 6:30 AM  Leave a Comment  

Rejoicing Always – H.B. Charles Jr.

tt-feb-2017As we end the month of February, we want to take a closing look at this month’s issue of Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries’ monthly devotional magazine.

This month, you may remember, the theme is “Joy,” with articles dealing with this subject from a variety of viewpoints (enjoying God, joy in our work, true joy vs. superficial joy, etc.).

One of the articles I read today before worship services is that linked below – “Rejoice Always” – by Rev. H.B. Charles, Jr. In it Charles points us to that familiar, short verse in 1 Thessalonians 5:16, where we are called to “rejoice always.” As he explains what this means for the Christian, Charles shows how difficult this calling is. But he also shows us the only way it can be obeyed.

This is part of what he has to say:

In 1 Thessalonians 5:16, Paul exhorts the saints to rejoice. It is a command, which makes it clear that joy is more than happiness. Happiness is an emotional response to favorable, pleasant, or rewarding circumstances. You cannot compel a person to be happy. It’s based on what happens to a person. But Christians are commanded by God to rejoice. This command to rejoice is in the present tense. It means “keep on rejoicing.” This makes 1 Thessalonians 5:16 a hard command. This divine mandate would be easier to swallow if it simply directed us to rejoice. Indeed, there are many times, reasons, and occasions that call for rejoicing. But the command is to rejoice always, not only sometimes. How does the Christian rejoice always?

And this is the beautiful answer he gives to that question:

First Thessalonians 5:16–18 features what have been called “the standing orders of the gospel.” These exhortations apply to all Christians in every place and every situation. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.” These commands may be familiar. But the justification for the commands is often overlooked: “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Do we want to know God’s will for us in any situation? It is God’s will that we rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances. We are in spiritual rebellion if we are not joyful, prayerful, and thankful. God’s will for our lives is about more than the circumstances we face. It is about how we respond to those circumstances.

It is the will of God for us to rejoice always. But obedience to this command is not accomplished by an act of the will. It is only accomplished by faith in Christ. The believer’s unceasing rejoicing is the will of God for us “in Christ Jesus.” This is the key to the life of rejoicing. Unsaved people do not rejoice in God, pray to God, or give thanks to God. Religious people rejoice sometimes, pray when they feel like it, and give thanks when things are going well. But Christians rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances. This is not the believer’s response because we are impervious to life’s dangers, toils, and snares. It is our response to life because we are in Christ Jesus.

That is good food for thought as we seek to live out God’s will for our lives in this coming week. Shall we not seek to “rejoice always,” no matter what our circumstances may be?

Find the rest of Charles’ article at the Ligonier link below.

Source: Rejoice Always by H.B. Charles Jr.

Listen Up! How to Listen to Sermons (7)

listen-up-ashWhat kind of a sermon listener are you and am I? How seriously do we take our responsibility to listen well? We expect our pastors to be excellent preachers, but do we expect ourselves to be excellent listeners of those sermons?

At the beginning of this new year we continue to look at a booklet that instructs God’s people in how to listen to sermons. The booklet is titled Listen Up! A Practical Guide to  Listening to Sermons (Good Book Co., 2009), written by Christopher Ash.

So we don’t lose the “big picture”, let’s keep in front of us the seven main points Ash makes in the book – the “seven ingredients for healthy sermon listening,” as he calls them:

  1. Expect God to speak
  2. Admit God knows better than you
  3. Check the preacher says what the passage says
  4. Hear the sermon in church
  5. Be there week by week
  6. Do what the Bible says
  7. Do what the Bible says today – and rejoice!

We have considered in past weeks #s 1-6; on this Saturday night we consider #7 – “Do what the Bible says today – and rejoice!” The key word here is “today.” The author wants to stress in this last point that we are called not simply to believe and obey the Word that is brought us; we are called to believe it and obey it today.

Ash quotes Psalm 95:7b and 8a, as well as its repetition in Hebrews 3:7,8 – “To day if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your heart….” And on that basis he writes:

Every time the Bible is preached, we ought to repent again and trust in Christ again. The Bible doesn’t just call non-Christians to repent and believe. It calls Christians to repent and believe, and it does so today. As long as it is called ‘today’ (which, of course, it always is!), we need to be challenged not to be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3 v 13).

…Every time we hear the Word of God preached, we must respond today by a turning of the heart away from sin (repentance) and towards God and Jesus Christ (faith).

…This is true whatever part of the Bible is being preached. No part of the Bible is there simply to inform us, or for our interest only; always it calls us to turn to God, perhaps in a changed belief, or a refreshed delight, or a new behaviour, or an altered value-system. But the turning must be done today.

To which the author adds this warning in connection with the wiles of the devil:

Every time we listen to a sermon, the devil will whisper in our ear: ‘That was good stuff. Why not do something about it tomorrow?’ And we instinctively want to agree, because tomorrow never comes. As the Red Queen says to Alice in Through the Looking Glass: ‘Jam tomorrow, jam yesterday, but never jam today.’ The devil echoes this and says, ‘Respond to the preaching tomorrow, respond to the preaching yesterday, but never respond today.’ And if we listen to him, we will never respond. As Augustine prayed when his sexual sin was challenged, ‘Give me chastity, but not yet.’

But Ash also instructs us in what to say to this temptation:

So when the devil whispers: ‘Why not respond tomorrow?’, we must reply: ;’ No, today as I have heard His voice, I will not harden my heart.’ This daily urgency of response will gradually, over the years, shape our character (pp.20-22).

Important matters, don’t you think? How shall we listen to God’s Word tomorrow in our worship? With urgency from the Word as well as from the work of grace in our hearts, we will say, “Today I will hear, and today I will respond in repentance and faith.”

Published in: on February 25, 2017 at 10:26 PM  Leave a Comment  

PRC Archives: YP’s Convention and Mystery Photo #1 of 2017

We are overdue for some pictures from the PRC archives! So, on this Friday we will have some fun and include TWO items – and make them into mystery photo contests too.

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The first is from the 1957 Young People’s Convention held in…. (You didn’t think I was going to tell you everything, now, did you? That’s part of your responsibility to find out.) But I am sure you will recognize some of these young people and members of the crowd in the photos above and below. Some are clear; others you will have to work harder at.

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The question with these photos is not only who are the people in the numbered pictures, but WHERE was the 1957 YPC held? And if you were an attender, let us know – and whether you made it into one of these pics!

Our second photo is a mystery PRC church building one. It’s in a folder by itself in the archives photo file cabinet. But it’s an important church from our past, so take a stab at it and see what you can guess.

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Have fun! Friday fun! Can’t wait to hear back! 🙂

Published in: on February 24, 2017 at 2:26 PM  Comments (4)  

Bibliomania: the strange history of compulsive book buying

bibliomaniaBeing one given to this “disorder,” I found this history of “bibliomania” quite interesting. Perhaps you will too, whether prone to it or not. Regardless of whether you reach this stage of book craving, I hope you at least have some bibliophilia in your soul.

Enjoy the good read below; here is a start:

Posted Jan.26, 2017 at The Guardian

In the 19th century, book collecting became common among gentlemen, mostly in Britain, and grew into an obsession that one of its participants called “bibliomania”. Thomas Frognall Dibdin, an English cleric and bibliographer, wrote Bibliomania, or Book Madness: A Bibliographical Romance, which was a gentle satire of those he saw as afflicted with this “neurosis”. Dibdin medicalised the condition, going so far as to provide a list of symptoms manifested in the particular types of books that they obsessively sought: “First editions, true editions, black letter-printed books, large paper copies; uncut books with edges that are not sheared by binder’s tools; illustrated copies; unique copies with morocco binding or silk lining; and copies printed on vellum.”

But Dibdin himself was obsessed with the physical aspects of books, and in his descriptions paid an intense attention to the details of their bindings and printings (rather than the content) that betrayed his own love. In a letter published in an 1815 journal, he beseeched subscribers to bulk up their subscriptions to help complete a set of volumes called The Bibliographical Decameron – more beautiful than they could imagine. “I should be loth to promise what is not likely to be performed, or to incur the censure of vanity or presumption in asserting that the materials already collected, in this department of the work, are more numerous, more beautiful, and more faithful, than any which, to my knowledge, have come under the eye of the publick.”

Source: Bibliomania: the strange history of compulsive book buying | Books | The Guardian

Published in: on February 23, 2017 at 6:37 AM  Leave a Comment  

Dead = D.E.A.D. “What is deader than dead?” – D.Phillips

world-tilting-gospel-phillipsOne of the Kindle books I am currently reading is Dan Phillips’ The World-Tilting Gospel; Embracing a Biblical Worldview and Hanging on Tight (Kregel, 2011).

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been pleasantly impressed with its content and message. I am a couple of chapters into it and find it soundly biblical, edifying, and challenging.

I know I promised something more from Chapter 1, (“Knowing God and Man”), but today I want to quote from Chapter 3 (“, where Phillips treats the fallenness of man and his total sinful depravity.

Soundly and biblically, Phillips grounds this in Adam’s fall and the orthodox teaching on original sin (Adam’s representative headship, etc.). But the author does not use old cliches to describe our total depravity. His section on man’s spiritual deadness will demonstrate that.

Here is what Phillips has to say:

This is how Paul describes our spiritual condition: dead. The Greek word for ‘dead’ means ‘D-E-A-D.’ It doesn’t carry any special, technical, secret nuance detectable only by professional lexicographers. It is used many times – in the NT of sleep-diver Eutychus after his fatal plunge from the third story (Acts 20:9), or in the Greek translation of the narrative about Sisera, after Jael nailed his head to the ground (Judg.4:22)

What do these all have in common?

They’re all dead! As dead as Moses. As dead as King Tut. As dead as Marcus Aurelius, Confucius, Augustine, and any other dead person you can name.

Do you really believe it? All Christians who say they believe the Bible have to say they believe this verse [Eph.2:1]. But do they? I wonder.

I thought I believed it, once, as a younger Christian. But I also thought that I was saved by exercising my free will, by my deciding to choose Christ, by bringing something that made God’s offer of salvation work, by coming up with the faith through which I was saved. Yet at the same time, I did have a vague notion that it was all of God… but then, there was my part.

A dead guy’s part.

I was confused. I think a lot of Christians are confused.

But Paul says dead, and dead is what he means. In fact, ask yourself this: If Paul had meant to paint man as spiritually dead and absolutely powerless to help himself or move himself toward God in any way – what stronger word could he have chosen? What is deader than dead?

Isn’t that a powerful – and humbling – description of all of us? Have we forgotten this? It is time we remember. And then listen to this at the end of this chapter (part of Phillip’s “world-tilting” application):

We must deal with the fact: The Gospel is offensive to human pride. If what we preach as ‘Gospel’ is not offensive, we’re doing it wrong. An unoffensive Gospel is a false Gospel, a damning Gospel – because the only Gospel that saves is the Gospel that offends (1 Cor.1:18, 21, 23; 2:2; Gal.1:10; 5:11; 6:12,14).

Save

The Presbyterian Philosopher, Gordon H. Clark – An Introduction

presby-philosoper-clark-douma-2017Today I want to return to the new biography by Douglas J. Douma on Gordon H. Clark, titled The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark (Wipf & Stock, 2017. 292 pp.).

You may recall that a few weeks ago when I received notice of the release of this book from the author, I did a brief blog post highlighting it. I have now received my review copy and the extra copies I ordered for the Seminary bookstore (available for purchase). I have started to delve into the book and am pleased with what I read so far.

I knew a little about Clark, especially, as I pointed out before, because of his connection to Herman Hoeksema and the PRCA. But I am intrigued by his philosophy and theology and interested in learning more about him as a Presbyterian churchman and as a person as well.

For today, I pull a few quotes from the introduction, where Douma gives his reason for writing about this man and his importance in his day and for our time. Here is one question and his answer:

What, then, did Clark believe? Why should Christians, particularly Christian theologians, wrestle with his philosophy and apply his insights? Clark provides perhaps the best philosophical understanding of Protestant Christianity. For its breadth and depth, his work can be difficult at times. He challenges us to question basic assumptions of the world, and of our faith, and he forces us to think in a rigorous, logical fashion (p.xx).

After laying out the broad “contours of Clark’s philosophy,” Douma points to the heart of Clark’s philosophical theology. His view of knowledge and the understanding of the world about him was not based on empiricism (observation and analysis), nor on rationalism (pure logic and reason), but on God’s revelation in Scripture. Concerning this the author writes,

The philosophy of Gordon Clark has been called Scripturalism because of his reliance on the truth of Scripture as his fundamental axiom or presupposition. Stated simply, his axiom is ‘The Bible is the Word of God.” Scripturalism teaches that the Bible is a revelation of truth from God, whom Himself determines truth and is the source of all truth. In this theory, the propositions of Scripture are true because they are given by inspiration of God, who cannot lie. For Clark, the Bible, the sixty-six books accepted by most Protestant churches, is a set of true propositions. All knowledge currently available to man are these propositions along with any additional propositions that can be logically deduced from them (xxi).

In addition to this fundamental axiom, Clark was also a dedicated Presbyterian confessionalist, subscribing to and promoting the historic creed of Presbyterians. About this says Douma,

As much as the story of Gordon Clark connects with American Presbyterian history, the philosophy of Gordon Clark engages the most important Presbyterian confession, the Westminster Confession of Faith. Time and again in Clark’s life and works, his commitment to the system of belief described in this historic document is revealed. …The Confession set the boundaries for Clark’s philosophy beyond which he would not strive to venture (xxiii).

And though these commitments to Scripture and the Confession brought him into inevitable controversy wherever he went and taught, “Clark remained convinced of the truth of the system of doctrine contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith, a truth centered in biblical revelation alone” (xxiii).

And so Douma points us to the significance of Clark for our own time:

Clark’s true import, however, is that, in an age of increasing secularization and rising atheism, he put up an intellectual defense of the Christian faith. This faith, he believed, was a system. All its parts linked together, a luxury of no other philosophy. The Scriptures exhort us to ‘be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have ‘(1 Peter 3:15). This requires that we love God fully with our minds and study His Word. Only from God’s revelation can we be assured of the truth of our reasons (xxiv).

That’s sufficient introduction to Clark for this post. I trust you see from this introduction that Clark has much to say to our age and generation. Until next time, perhaps it is time for you to be exposed to Clark’s Scripturalism.

Toward a Christian View of Economics – Albert Mohler

biblical-economicsAs we start our next six-day work week today, there are many things on our minds. Probably a Christian view of economics is not among those things. We have schedules to keep, hours to fulfill, and, quite simply, jobs to get done. What benefit is a Christian view of economics going to do us?

But, as we know from experience as well as from what we have been taught, perspective makes all the difference in the world. Our world and life view shapes all we do and how we do it, including our daily work.

In the February issue of Tabletalk Dr. Al Mohler penned an article for the rubric “City on a Hill” titled “Toward a Christian View of Economics,” and I believe it is a good piece for us to consider as we start the week.

The principles he sets forth apply not only to corporate economics, but to personal economics as well. When you read these, check your own personal view of work, money, and stewardship with these points. How biblical is your economics?

He prefaces his article with these words:

Regrettably, many American Christians know little about economics. Furthermore, many Christians assume that the Bible has nothing at all to say about economics. But a biblical worldview actually has a great deal to teach us on economic matters. The meaning of work, the value of labor, and other economic issues are all part of the biblical worldview. Christians must allow the economic principles found in Scripture to shape our thinking. Here, then, are twelve theses for what a Christian understanding of economics must do.

And then he gives those 12 theses, the first 5 of which I give you here (find the other 7 at the Ligonier link below). Later in these theses, Mohler has some significant things to say about the family and how healthy families factor into good economics.

1. It must have God’s glory as its greatest aim.

For Christians, all economic theory begins with an aim to glorify God (1 Cor. 10:31). We have a transcendent economic authority.

2. It must respect human dignity.

No matter the belief system, those who work show God’s glory whether they know it or not. People may believe they are working for their own reasons, but they are actually working out of an impulse that was put into their hearts by the Creator for His glory.

3. It must respect private property and ownership.

Some economic systems treat the idea of private property as a problem. But Scripture never considers private property as a problem to be solved. Scripture’s view of private property implies that owning private property is the reward of someone’s labor and dominion. The eighth and tenth commandments teach us that we have no right to violate the financial rewards of the diligent.

4. It must take into full account the power of sin.

Taking the Bible’s teaching on the pervasive effects of sin into full account means that we expect bad things to happen in every economic system. A Christian economic understanding tries to ameliorate the effects of sin.

5. It must uphold and reward righteousness.

Every economic and government system comes with embedded incentives. An example of this is the American tax code, which incentivizes desired economic behaviors. Whether they work is an issue of endless political recalibration. However, in the Christian worldview, that recalibration must continue to uphold and reward righteousness.

Source: Toward a Christian View of Economics by Albert Mohler

Listen Up! How to Listen to Sermons (6)

listen-up-ashAt the beginning of this new year we continue to look at a booklet that instructs God’s people in how to listen to sermons. The booklet is titled Listen Up! A Practical Guide to  Listening to Sermons (Good Book Co., 2009), written by Christopher Ash.

So we don’t lose the “big picture”, let’s keep in front of us the seven main points Ash makes in the book – the “seven ingredients for healthy sermon listening,” as he calls them:

  1. Expect God to speak
  2. Admit God knows better than you
  3. Check the preacher says what the passage says
  4. Hear the sermon in church
  5. Be there week by week
  6. Do what the Bible says
  7. Do what the Bible says today – and rejoice!

We have considered in past weeks #s 1-5; on this Sunday morning we consider #6 – “Do what the Bible says.”

Again, you will readily note the progression of thought. Based on what preaching is, it is good and necessary to attend weekly services where the Word of God is expounded faithfully. There, in the local body of gathered believers, we are to listen carefully to God’s message to us.

But that is not enough. We must also DO what the Word calls us to do – and I might add, BE what the Word calls us to be. We must put on the character of Christ and put on the conduct of Christ. Then, we are truly Christ-like – the purpose of the preaching with regard to ourselves.

With that in mind, Ash begins this section by pointing to and quoting two important passages of God’s Word – James 1:22 and 2 Timothy 3:16, which we reference here:

But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

On the basis of these passages, the author adds these pertinent comments:

We mustn’t expect sermons to entertain us. We live in a culture of entertainment; we can generally find amusement at the press of a remote control button. One reason people have stopped coming to listen to sermons is that, if they come for entertainment, they can find better entertainment elsewhere. It is rare for a sermon to rival the special effects of a Batman or a Bond…. Most preachers are bound to fail, and mistaken to try.

Nevertheless, from time to time people will come to some preachers to be entertained. Herod enjoyed listening to John the Baptist preach, even though John condemned Herod’s wrong marriage.

…There was a time when the people loved coming to hear Ezekiel preach; somehow it was as entertaining as listening to a popular love song [cf. Ezek.33:32]….

We see this today in the Christian sub-cultures of celebrity preachers. There are a few preachers whose style and manner is so good that we can listen to them for hours. …We might shop around churches until we find a style of preaching to suit our taste, because our aim is to be entertained, rather than to be taught, rebuked, corrected and trained in righteousness.

And, having said that (are we not all convicted by the reality that this pervasive culture influences us too?!), Ash concludes with this:

However, it is a great mistake to think we have it in us to obey [the Word]. On our own we cannot obey. We are slaves to sin, unable to help ourselves. We cannot even repent without God working repentance (eg: 2 Timothy 2 v 25). It is God who opens our hearts to respond to His message, and not just at the start of the Christian life (Acts 16 v 14). We need to pray for God to open our hearts week by week to His truth (pp.18-19).

May we listen up! today with that prayer on our lips.

Another Special Friday Lunch

Yesterday the PRC Seminary enjoyed another special lunch hour. As you may remember, we have the custom of grilling brats or burgers and, when we can, enjoying a “cultural” experience.

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Yesterday during lunch Mr. Peter Adams gave the second part of his presentation on the Renaissance, the Reformation and art – another profitable “Powerpoint” talk. We thank him for taking the time to share his knowledge of and Reformed perspective on this subject with us.

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Another benefit of our Friday lunches is the fellowship we enjoy together. Often we have guests (word spreads fast about the good food!), as well as Seminarian wives and children who join us. And when there is a new baby, well, the crowd gathers!

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The newest addition to our Seminary family is Abigail Tan, daughter of Josiah (first-year student from CERC in Singapore) and his wife “HQ” (Hui Qi). She is a beautiful girl, precious to her parents and to us.

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And since this is supposed to be my “Friday Fun” post, I will include these two images, also from yesterday. While closing things up at the end of the day yesterday, I came eye to eye with a deer who was grazing just outside the assembly room window. I was able to sneak up and capture her as she looked up and spotted me.

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And, finally, we are having Spring-like weather in West Michigan, which means some of the early bulb flowers are already poking up. In a protected corner of the front of the building are these daffodils up 4 inches already, unaware that Winter is still officially a month away. That’s ok, it’s a happy sight anyway. 🙂

Published in: on February 18, 2017 at 9:19 PM  Leave a Comment