Regeneration: God’s Sovereign Act – D. Phillips

world-tilting-gospel-phillipsOne of the Kindle books I continue to make my way through is Dan Phillips’ The World-Tilting Gospel; Embracing a Biblical Worldview and Hanging on Tight (Kregel, 2011). I had put it aside for a few months to read some other things, but returned to it yesterday to read a couple more chapters from Section 3 on God’s way of salvation.

Phillips has back-to-back chapters on justification and regeneration as the ways in which God deals with our sin problem – the guilt of it and the filth of it, respectively. Both are good chapters, laying out the Scripture’s teaching on these two aspects of God’s saving work.

Today I quote from the chapter on regeneration, what he calls the “second towering truth – born from above (“How God deals with our bad nature”). In that connection he proves the plain biblical teaching on God’s sovereignty in this work, in the face of what much of modern Evangelicalism teaches about the relation between regeneration and faith:

Though I realize this knocks heads with a lot of evangelicals’ notions (including the view I myself cherished for many years), I do now know any other honest way of handling John 1:12-13: ‘But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.’ There we have the certain fact that all who are born again believe in Jesus Christ. But their new birth is expressly traced – not to anything they had inherited from their parents, nor to any exercise of their own will or any decision they made, but to the kingly grace and work of God.They believed savingly in Jesus because God had given them new birth before their embrace of Christ.

Later in this chapter, after pointing to other Scriptures that prove this proper relation, Phillips concludes with this:

So which the chicken, which the egg? [that is, which is first, faith or regeneration] Because I see all of Scripture (and these specific passages among others) giving God all the glory, and tracing regeneration to God’s action preceding our faith, it does not shock me to find that the Bible teaches that regeneration precedes and necessarily provokes saving faith.

To which we give our hearty “Amen”!

“By reading [the Bible] we can see divine glory!” ~ J. Piper

To me, it is simply wonderful that God would lead Paul, in Ephesians 3:4, to make unmistakably explicit this breathtaking fact about reading, namely, that the riches of the glory of God are perceived through reading [the Bible]. It is wonderful because reading is so ordinary, but the unsearchable riches of Christ are so extraordinary. It’s as if he said that you can fly by sitting. Or that you an be on top of Mount Everest by breathing. By reading we can see divine glory! By the most ordinary act, we can see the most wonderful reality. A surge of joy goes through me when I think about this. In that book, by the act of reading, I may see the glory of God. O Lord, incline my heart to that book and not to vanity! That is my prayer – for myself and you.

Which leads the author to make this point of application:

But I must not lose sight of the point I am trying to make: that we should read God’s word in order to see his supreme worth and beauty. …Do you want access to the riches of the glory of God in Christ? Do you want to ‘perceive’ them (Eph.3:4)? Do you want to be empowered by them ‘to comprehend… the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge’ (Eph.3:16-19)? Then, Paul says, read! Read what I have written. Or we may say, read the Bible [p.71].

Reading-Bible-Supernaturally-Piper-2017Quotation from Chapter 3, “Reading to See Supreme Worth and Beauty” of John Piper’s new book Reading the Bible Supernaturally: Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture (Crossway, 2017).

Reading Jules Verne This Summer Could Introduce Endless Adventure

This informative and challenging post appeared earlier this month (July 6, 2017) on The Federalist. In it Jamie Gass points to studies that show that students who read during the summer months are better prepared for school in the Fall. And to encourage students to read books that are adventurous as well as educational, Gass points to the works of French novelist Jules Verne.

Even though we are well into the summer months, it is not too late to get your child or teen to spend some time reading good literature in the month leading up to the start of the new school year.

Below you will find the opening paragraphs of the article and then part of the section that references Verne’s writings.

“[M]y task is to paint the whole earth, the entire world, in novel form, by imagining adventures,” wrote the renowned, late-nineteenth-century French novelist Jules Verne.

As vacation begins, decades of K-12 education research tells us that summertime is when the academic paths of higher- and lower-performing students most radically diverge. According to Scholastic Reading Challenge, “the ‘Summer Slide’ accounts for as much as 85 percent of the reading achievement gap.”

Simply put, studies support what common sense makes plain: students who read during the summer return to school much better prepared than their classmates do. Meanwhile, great fiction that offers higher-quality vocabulary, complex plots, and engaging characters can positively shape young minds.

A little later in the article the author comments on the significance and value of Verne’s works:

Monsieur Verne is considered the “father of science fiction” for his books “Journey to the Center of the Earth” (1864); “From the Earth to the Moon” (1865); “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” (1870); and “Around the World in Eighty Days” (1873), which are the most noted of his “Extraordinary Voyages.” Verne’s 60-plus classic works have been translated into 174 languages.

Verne’s voyages value literature, history, geography, math, science, and high-tech engineering. Few authors are capable of propelling students’ imaginations while simultaneously surveying such varied academic disciplines. Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy called Verne’s books “matchless.” Since 1979, UNESCO’s Index Translationum reports, Verne is the second most-translated author on earth, outpacing Shakespeare and trailing only Agatha Christie.Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” ranks as the seventh most-translated book in the world, surpassing “Harry Potter,”Alice in Wonderland,” and even Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytales.

Source: Reading Jules Verne This Summer Could Introduce Endless Adventure

If you want to get started reading Around the World in Eighty Days, visit this Project Gutenberg link.

John Calvin and his Institutes – “Refo Thursday”

On this Thursday night, it is time for another “Refo Thursday” feature.

As we have mentioned several times here already this year, the Christian History Institute (which also publishes the magazine Christian History – issue #120 is about Calvin and the Reformation – cf. image here) has a special post each week featuring various aspects of the Reformation.

It is called “Refo Thursday” (“your weekly throwback to the Reformation” [in their words] – connected to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017), and usually features a quote from one of the major Reformers and a brief video on an aspect of Reformation history.

Today’s short video, featuring Karin Maag from the Calvin Meeter Center and Michael Horton from Westminster Seminary (West-CA), focuses on John Calvin’s attempts to bring reformation to Catholic France, his home country, by writing his first edition of the Institutes of the Christian Religion – from Basel, Switzerland.

Listen in and learn about how Calvin viewed himself and the other Reformers as more “catholic” than the Roman Catholic Church.

Gospel Truth: Justification as Imputation – D. J. Engelsma

gospel-truth-justification-DJE-2017In chapter eight of his most recent book, Gospel Truth of Justification: Proclaimed, Defended, Developed, David J. Engelsma makes plain that the saving act of God in justification involves imputation. He explains:

Justification is imputation. It is the divine act of imputing, or reckoning, the righteousness of Jesus Christ to the guilty but elect sinner. To the account of the elect sinner, God imputes the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. This righteousness consists of Jesus’ lifelong obedience to the will of God and of his atoning suffering and death. The believing sinner experiences this imputation as the forgiveness of his sins – the lifting of sin’s guilt, which guilt exposes the sinner to God’s punishment of sins – and as the sinner’s standing before God the judge as one who has fully accomplished all that the law of God demands of him – the possession of perfect obedience to the ten commandments of the law of God.

But that is not all that the believer experiences through this gracious act of God:

Removed is all shame, the deep shame of being a sinner. Bestowed is honor, the genuine honor of being a righteous man or woman.

Gone is fear, the worst of all fears, namely, being an object of the wrath and curse of God and therefore facing the certain punishment of eternal damnation in hell. Present, by justification, is confidence, the all-important confidence of being the object of God’s favor, ending in eternal life and glory in body and soul in the day of Jesus Christ [pp.108-109].

Later in that chapter Engelsma warns about the danger of corrupting this central gospel truth of justification by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness:

Confusion of sanctification with justification, confusion of God’s work of imparting obedience with his act of imputing righteousness, is necessarily corruption of the gospel of grace. This confusion is not harmless. It prevents the publican from going down to his home justified. It is attempted robbery of the people of God of their joy and peace. It detracts from the obedience of Jesus Christ as the complete righteousness of the believing sinner, as though the obedience of the sinner must be added to the obedience of Jesus for the sinner’s righteousness with God [pp.112-13].

In the end this is the issue:

In the saving act of justification, it is all or nothing. Either Jesus’ obedient life and atoning death are all of the sinner’s righteousness with God (by justification), or if Jesus’ obedience must be complemented by so much as one small work of the sinner himself (as an infused righteousness), Jesus’ obedience is of no account for the sinner’s justification whatsoever [p.113].

Your Mind Matters (2) – J. Stott

mind-matters-stottI have tried to show how basic is man’s rationality to the great doctrines of creation, revelation, redemption and judgment. God has constituted us thinking beings; he has treated us as such by communicating with us in words; he has renewed us in Christ and given us the mind of Christ; and he will hold us responsible for the knowledge we have.

Perhaps the current mood (cultivated in some Christian groups) of anti-intellectualism begins now to be seen as the serious evil it is. It is not true piety at all but part of the fashion of the world and therefore a form of worldliness. To denigrate the mind is to undermine foundational Christian doctrines. Has God created us rational beings, and shall we deny our humanity which he has given us? Has God spoken to us, and shall we not listen to his words? Has God renewed our mind through Christ, and shall we not think with it? Is God going to judge us by his Word, and shall we not be wise and build our house upon this rock?

Taken from Your Mind Matters: The Place of the Mind in the Christian Life (Inter-Varsity Press, 1972) by John R. W. Stott, p.26.

The Place of Entertainment in Our Lives – M. Wittmer

TT-July-2017As already noted here this month, the July 2017 issue of Tabletalk takes for its theme “Entertainment.” The final featured article is by Dr. Michael Wittmer, who teaches systematic theology at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary here in town.

In “Glorifying God and Engaging Entertainment” Wittmer answers two questions relating to the Christian’s proper use of entertainment – when to engage it and how to engage it. When he answers that first question of “when,” he points out that we may enjoy entertainment regularly. But to that he also adds this adverb: selectively.

Under that second point he has some good thoughts that I share with you today.

Besides the amount of time spent on entertainment, we must also consider its location [place in our lives]. Solomon says there is ‘a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die, a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted,’ and so on (Eccl.3:1-8). There is a time to create and a time to consume what was created. Let’s not give our most creative moments to passively consuming entertainment. I am most productive in the mornings [I can relate to that!], and I guard that time from videos, websites, and even books that don’t require my best. I try to devote my peak periods to creating content – I’m writing this sentence in the morning – rather than consuming what someone else has produced.

When are you most fresh? Protect this time, and its regular structure will supply space for your creativity to flourish. Use this time to produce things and to serve people for the glory of God and the benefit of your neighbors. Create until you run out of steam, then refresh yourself with a song, story, or other creation that someone else has produced.

isn’t that a helpful point to guide us in when to use entertainment? I don’t think I ever looked at using leisure time that way before – using it to be creative and productive instead of just using someone else’s creativity and productions. I find that insightful and instructive.

Now, about the two appeals to “common” grace in this issue in defense of the Christian’s use of entertainment: I would also like to comment on that in the near future, because grace and entertainment certainly have an intersection; it’s just not “common.”

What Are the Themes of the Psalter? R. Godfrey

Learning-love-psalms-Godfrey-2017In the fourth chapter of his new book Learning to Love the Psalms (Reformation Trust, 2017), author W. Robert Godfrey addresses the themes of the OT book of Psalms.

In “Recurring Themes in the Psalms” he points out that “a great aid to our study of the Psalms is recognizing the major themes that occur over and over again in the Psalter. Certain basic themes unite the Psalms and underscore essential truths about God and His care for His people” (p.16).

From there he seeks to answer the question, What is the great theme that dominates the Psalter? Here is his answer:

John Calvin in his five-volume commentary on the book of Psalms suggested that the great theme of the Psalter is the providence of God, specifically God’s preservation of His own. Hesitant as I am to try to improve on Calvin, I would expand on his thought by saying that the great theme of the Psalter is God’s goodness and unfailing love for the righteous. God is always good in ways completely compatible with His holiness. And in His goodness, He never fails in His love and care for those who belong to Him [p.16].

And what about the personal, subjective side to this grand theme? What about the response of these righteous ones who are so loved and cared for by the good God? This is what Godfrey adds:

As this truth of God’s goodness and love is celebrated throughout the Psalter, the regular response of God’s people is clear: they praise Him. When we really think about who God is and what He does for us, the only possible reaction is praise. Indeed, the book of Psalms derives its Hebrew name, the Book of Praises, from this principal reaction – praise – to the principal theme – God’s goodness and unfailing love for the righteous [pp.16-17].

Do you agree with the author? Is this the central message you find in the precious book of God’s Word? And if you do, do you and I also response with praise – personal and private, as well as corporate and public?

Today, in the house of our great and glorious, good and loving Father we have the opportunity again to see and hear this theme, and to respond in thankful praise. Shall we do this? Let us. For our God is worthy.

The 19th-Century Lithuanians Who Smuggled Books to Save Their Language

This fascinating “book-smuggler” story was included in the posts sent by email from “Atlas Obscura” this week. Discover a clever means these Lithuanians devised to preserve their language against Russian attempts to dominate them and control their lives and religion.

Two editions of the same prayer book. The book to the left is Cyrillic and was printed by Russia. The book to the right is Latin Lithuanian and was illegal under the ban

Here is part of the story as it relates to the language issue and how these “book smugglers” saved the true Lithuanian language:

Language had long been a point of contention in Tsarist Lithuania. In the middle of the 19th century, in order to assimilate the peasant class, the Russian scholar Alexander Hilferding proposed that the Lithuanian language, which uses a Latin alphabet, be converted to a Russian Cyrillic alphabet.

The Lithuanian press ban was therefore an attempt to eradicate the Lithuanian language and promote loyalty to the Russian cause. Lithuanian children were also required to attend Russian state schools, where they would learn the Cyrillic alphabet through books printed by the Russian government.

According to historians, Russia thought little of the ban when they first initiated it. They didn’t see Lithuanians as belonging to a unique nationality, and they assumed that resistance, if anything, would be minimal.

They were wrong.

Almost immediately, individuals sprung up to spread Lithuanian writing. Since they couldn’t publish books in their homeland, many Lithuanians began printing them abroad and smuggling them back into their own country.

Thus appeared the first of the knygnešiai—or book-carriers—who, in a desperate bid to save their language, transported books across the border and illegally disseminated them throughout Lithuania.

Initially, the knygnešiai worked alone. They carried books in sacks or covered wagons, delivering them to stations set up throughout Lithuania. They performed most of their operations at night, when the fewest guards were stationed along the border. Winter months—especially during blizzards—were popular crossing times.

Lithuanians went to great lengths to conceal their illegal books. TheForty Years of Darkness by Juozas Vaišnora reports of female smugglers who dressed as beggars and hid books in sacks of cheese, eggs, or bread. Some even strapped tool belts to their waists and pretended to be craftsmen, disguising newspapers under their thick clothes.

Find the full story at the link below, along with several related images and maps.

Source: The 19th-Century Lithuanians Who Smuggled Books to Save Their Language – Atlas Obscura

Published in: on July 22, 2017 at 7:14 AM  Leave a Comment  

The Many Sides of Martin Luther – L. Roper and R. Kolb

In this significant anniversary year of the great Reformation, inaugurated through the work of the German monk Martin Luther, books on this key figure abound.

A recently published one obtained for the seminary library is Lyndal Roper’s Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet (Random House, 2017). Lutheran theologian and historian Robert Kolb wrote a brief review of this new title on the Gospel Coalition website, which I reference here today.

While Kolb has good things to say about this fresh study of Luther, he is also not afraid to offer constructive criticism.

He introduces Lyndal’s book this way:

Lyndal Roper—professor of history at Oxford—has written a new biography of Martin Luther titled Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet.

Her goal is neither to “idolize” nor “denigrate” Luther, nor does she “wish to make him consistent.” She aims instead to understand him and the “convulsions” both he and Protestantism in general unleashed (xxx). Roper examines Luther’s relationships with family, mentors, and students; his theological and pastoral concerns; and his sociological context to give readers a fuller picture of the man and his time.

At another point he offers this criticism where the author treats Luther’s manifold relationships, including those with his students:

Further, her treatment of Luther’s students is curiously lopsided. Roper focuses on one student with whom he had severe difficulties, Johann Agricola. Though she doesn’t ignore the theological side of their rupture, she could’ve made clearer how serious Agricola’s confusion of law and gospel was for Luther. She doesn’t counterbalance this story with examples of the warm relationships Luther enjoyed with many students who adored him. The book also could’ve benefited from a more thorough examination of Luther’s complex relationship with Philip Melanchthon.

As we go through this year you are encouraged to find a good biography on Luther to refresh your Reformation history and to strengthen your appreciation for God’s work through frail and faulty but gifted servants such as this staunch German Reformer.

Source: The Many Sides of Martin Luther