God: The Winner of Souls – September 2017 “Tabletalk”

The September 2017 issue of Tabletalk has been out for over a week now and it is time to introduce its theme and contents. Editor Burk Parsons introduces this issue on “Soul Winning” with his editorial “Rescuing Souls from Death.”

The first featured article is Dr. David Strain’s “God: The Winner of Souls,” in which he emphasizes that fundamental to our reason and motive for evangelizing is the truth that God is the One who saves sinners by His sovereign grace in Jesus Christ.

Here are a couple of paragraphs that bring that home – one at the beginning of the article and the other at the end:

Though we may not realize it, behind and before our “lisping, stammering tongues” ever manage to proclaim the good news about Jesus, before we can muster the courage to speak a word for Him, God Himself has been in hot pursuit of sinners to save. Few truths offer more encouragement to us in our efforts to share the gospel than this: God is the great winner of souls.

…So here is the liberating truth: God is the true and great soul winner. The Father purposed to save sinners in love, and so He sent His Son for us. The Son of God has loved us and given Himself for us. The same Spirit who rested upon Christ now gives life to dead sinners, uniting us to Christ, and He empowers us in turn to bear witness for Christ. When we realize these great truths, when we see that God is the Evangelist, evangelism will cease to be a fearful work, pursued in an effort to curry divine favor. Instead, it will become a joyful expression of gratitude and an outpouring of holy zeal that others might know the salvation that has been lavished upon us by Almighty God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Read the full article at the link below. And, by the way, Ligonier has made a new special website for Tabletalk, with more content and featured articles available online. Check it out when you visit the link below.

Also, the daily devotions continue on the doctrines and practices restored to the church at the time of the great Reformation. This month they are on “The Reformation of Worship.” Want a sample of what they are like? Here’s part of the devotional for Sept.1:

Often when we think of the Protestant Reformation and what it accomplished, we focus on the doctrinal reforms related to such topics as divine grace, justification, and the authority of Scripture. This association of doctrinal reform with the Reformation is, of course, good and proper, for the Reformers were concerned to conform Christian doctrine to the teaching of God’s Word. However, the Reformers understood that there could be no true doctrinal reform without a corresponding reform of the church’s worship. In fact, in The Necessity of Reforming the Church, written to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, John Calvin listed the reform of Christian worship first in his explanation of why the Reformation was necessary. Our worship and our theology are inextricably linked.

Source: God: The Winner of Souls

Theology and Worship: Reflexive Relation – A. McGrath

Finally, we must emphasize the link between theology and worship. Theology has done its job well when it leaves us on our knees, adoring the mystery that lies at the heart of the Christian faith. There is a sense in which worship provides a context and offers a corrective to theology.

Worship provides a context for theology in that it represents a vigorous reassertion of the majesty and glory of God. It reminds us of the greater reality behind the ideas and language that theology can be overconcerned with getting right. When theology becomes dull and stale, worship can rejuvenate it: worship is the fiery crucible of joy in which theology can reconnect with its true object. In this way worship corrects inadequate conceptions of theology, especially those which treat theology simply as a set of ideas.

Yet theology can also act as a corrective to worship. Worship can too easily be seen as a purely human activity, capable of enhancement and adjustment by appropriate techniques. But true worship is not improved by whipping up the emotions or turning up the music; rather it is enhanced and authenticated by reflecting on who God is and thus naturally yearning to respond in praise and adoration [p.42].

PassionateIntellectbookTaken from Chapter 2, “Mere Theology; The Landscape of Faith 2”, in Alister McGrath’s book The Passionate Intellect: Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind (IVP, 2010), a book I picked for review a few years ago and picked up again to continue reading.

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Working out of Love for God – J. Hamilton, Jr.

Work-Hamilton-2017On this Labor Day holiday in the U.S., we reference a new book published by Crossway this year titled  Work and Our Labor in the Lord by James M. Hamilton, Jr. (paper, 123 pp.).

Part of a new series, “Short Studies in Biblical Theology,” this title along with the others (so far on Jesus the Son of God, marriage, and the covenant) are designed “to serve as bite-sized  introductions to major subjects in biblical theology.”

I introduced this review book (still available!) a few months ago, and after reading a few more chapters last night with a view to the holiday today, I decided to post a nice section from chapter 3, where Hamilton treats work from the viewpoint of “Redemption,” that is, “Work Now That Christ Has Risen.”

Under the section “Work as an Expression of Love for God” the author gives these four (4) profitable summary points based on NT passages:

  1. Work to please God: the parable of the talents (Matt.25:14-30). In the parable of the talents Matthew presents Jesus commending initiative, diligence, and even savvy attempts to earn interest on one’s money (Matt.25:20-23, 27). He likewise discourages a slothful, fearful failure to be fruitful (25:26-30).

  2. Do all for God’s glory (1 Cor.10:31). First Corinthians 10:31 communicates Paul’s view that all things should be done for God’s glory. God created the world to fill it with his glory, and those who would make God’s character known should join him by pursuing his renown whether eating, drinking, or doing anything else.

  3. Do all in Christ’s name (Col.3:17). The name of Jesus is about the character and mission of Jesus. To work in the name of the Lord Jesus, then, is to work in a way that reflects his character and joins his mission. To  put the character of Jesus on display is to be transformed into the image of the invisible God (2 Cor.3:18; Col.1:15). This means that for Paul to speak of working in Christ’s name is another way for him to urge working for God’s glory.

  4. Work from your soul for the Lord (Col.3:23). In addition to working for God’s glory, Paul instructs the Colossians to work from the soul (ek psukes [my transliteration of the Greek]) for the Lord. This appears to mean that they should put all they are into their work rather than merely doing things to preserve appearances before men. Christians should employ their creative capacities and soul-deep energies as they seek to serve God in their work. With God’s glory as our aim, nothing less will suffice [pp.84-85].

So you see again that the Christian perspective on work – according to God’s Word, our only standard and guide also for our earthly labors – is fundamentally different from that of the world about us. May we so work, today and every day, according to God’s principles.

A Little Book with Large Theology

little-book-theologians-kapicA small theology book I recently came on is Kelly M. Kapic’s A Little Book for New Theologians: Why and How to Study Theology (IVP Academic, 2012). While the book is little, the theology found in it is large. I referenced it a few weeks ago and do so again today.

I appreciated these thoughts at the end of chapter 3, “Theology as Pilgrimage”:

It is vital to recognize that one should not give up on theology because of our limitations, for our confidence ultimately rests on God, not on ourselves. In this sense we recognize and delight in the axiom drawn from the brilliant medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas: ‘Theology is taught by God, teaches of God and leads to God’ (Theologia a Deo docetur, Deum docet, et ad Deum ducit). All good and faithful theology comes from God, who is the ultimate theologian – the only one who can, without weakness or misunderstanding, speak of himself.

And then, after pointing us to Jesus Christ, “God’s great self-revelation” and the one in whom alone true knowledge of God is found (Kapic quotes Jesus’ words in Matt.11:27), he says,

Clearly, ‘knowing’ in this context is not merely referring to cognitive assent. Our call is to come, to gaze at Christ, to hear his word and to respond in faith and love. Here theology and worship come together: we are answering the call of our heavenly Father to speak words from the basis of an intimate knowledge of the Word, which is possible only by the gift of the Spirit. Theology is wrapped up in this response to God’s call. Hence, it is to be faith-full: faith is always required for genuine theology. We rightly respond to God’s revelation when our words about God, whether many or few, are placed into the matrix of worship. When we see the relationship between theology and worship we are moved beyond intellectual curiosity to an engaged encounter with the living God [pp.36-37].

New Review Book: Covenant and God’s Purpose for the World – T. Schreiner

I recently requested and received two more review books from Crossway Publishers. Today I feature one of them.

The title is Covenant and God’s Purpose for the World by Thomas R. Schreiner, who is “the James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation and associate dean of the school of theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.” This new book belongs to a new series produced by Crossway – “Short Studies in Biblical Theology” (cf. my earlier reference to Work and Our Labor in the Lord by James M. Hamilton, Jr.).

About this book the publisher has this summary:

“Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations.” Genesis 17:4

Throughout the Bible, God has related to his people through covenants. It is through these covenant relationships, which collectively serve as the foundation for God’s promise to bring redemption to his people, that we can understand the advancement of his kingdom. This book walks through six covenants from Genesis to Revelation, helping us grasp the overarching narrative of Scripture and see the salvation God has planned for us since the beginning of time—bolstering our faith in God and giving us hope for the future.

The author opens his “Introduction” with this statement about the significance of “covenant” in the Bible:

Covenant is one of the most important words in the Bible since it introduces one of the central theological themes in Scripture. Some scholars have even argued that covenant is the center of Scripture, the theme that integrates the message of the entire Bible. I am not convinced that covenant is the center of Scripture. Indeed, the idea that the Scriptures have one center is probably mistaken. Still, we can rightly say that covenant is one of the most important notions in the Bible.

A few pages later the author launches into his definition of covenant, one that has favorable elements:

…Covenant can be defined as follows: a covenant is a chosen relationship in which two parties make binding promises to each other.

…First, a covenant is a relationship, and that sets it apart from a contract. Contracts also contain promises and obligations, but they are impersonal and nonrelational. Covenants stand apart from contracts because the promises are made in a relational context. We are not surprised to learn, then, that marriage in the Scriptures is described as a covenant (Prov.2:17; Mal.2:14). In marriage a husband and a wife choose to enter a covenant relationship, and they make binding promises to each other, pledging lifelong loyalty and faithfulness [p.13].

There’s much more, of course, but we will pause here for today. The website gives the following as the contents:

Introduction

  1. The Covenant of Creation
  2. The Covenant with Noah
  3. The Covenant with Abraham
  4. The Covenant with Israel
  5. The Covenant with David
  6. The New Covenant

For Further Reading
General Index
Scripture Index

If you are interested in reviewing this little book, let me know.

Source: Covenant and God’s Purpose for the World

Is God unfair to save sinners only through Jesus? – August “Tabletalk”

TT-August-2017The August issue of Tabletalk (Ligonier Ministries’ monthly devotional magazine) has as its theme, “Giving An Answer,” focusing on the Christians’ calling to be faithful witnesses to and apologists of the gospel of our Lord based on 1 Peter 3:15.

I read a couple more of the featured articles yesterday before worship services, including James N. Anderson’s “Is There Only One Way of Salvation?” Part of his defense of the gospel of exclusive salvation through Christ alone involves answering the objection that God is unfair not to save sincere followers of other religions.

I appreciated his great answer to this issue (which included the truth that because salvation is by grace alone God is under no obligation to save anyone) and post part of it here, so that you too may have a good defense of salvation in Jesus only.

The unfairness objection also reflects flawed assumptions about who gets to define salvation. Surely, it is up to our Creator – not us – to diagnose our problem and prescribe a remedy for it. The pluralist treats salvation as if it were like a hair treatment: you should be able to choose your color, your style, and so on, all according to your own preferences. Whatever works for you.

But what if salvation is more like a medical treatment for a fatal disease? If there is only one medication that can actually cure the illness, it would be extremely foolish to advocate ‘medical pluralism’ – a have-it-your-way approach to treatment – and it would be bizarre to accuse your doctor of unfairness for prescribing the only remedy that works.

And so Anderson makes the application to salvation from sin:

The point should be obvious: the prescription must fit the diagnosis. If the basic human problem is as the Bible describes it – that we’re sinners standing under the judgment of God, unable even to begin to make an adequate atonement for our sins – then only Christianity presents a solution that adequately addresses the problem. No other religion offers a perfect mediator between God and man who removes the enmity between us and our Creator by bearing the penalty for our sins in our place (Rom.5:6-11; 2 Cor.5:18-21; I Tim.2:5-6) [p.17].

Do we truly believe that? And are we, then, prepared to “give an answer” to those who may ask us about our precious Savior?

A Little Book for New (All) Theologians – K. Kapic

little-book-theologians-kapicA small and brief book I found in a local Thrift store recently is Kelly M. Kapic’s A Little Book for New Theologians: Why and How to Study Theology (IVP Academic, 2012).

I decided to put it into the seminary library, then took it home to read a bit in it this weekend. I read a couple of chapters and found it interesting and informative. Kapic is professor of theological studies at Covenant College (PCA) in Lookout Mountain, GA. The publisher gives this overview of the book on its website:

Whenever we read, think, hear or say anything about God, we are doing theology. Yet theology isn’t just a matter of what we think. It affects who we are.

In the tradition of Helmut Thielicke’s A Little Exercise for Young Theologians, Kelly Kapic offers a concise introduction to the study of theology for newcomers to the field. He highlights the value and importance of theological study and explains its unique nature as a serious discipline.

Not only concerned with content and method, Kapic explores the skills, attitudes and spiritual practices needed by those who take up the discipline. This brief, clear and lively primer draws out the relevance of theology for Christian life, worship, mission, witness and more.

“Theology is about life,” writes Kapic. “It is not a conversation our souls can afford to avoid.”

Today I give you a few samples from the book for your profit. I see this book as useful not only to those new to theology but also to those who want to be reminded of the significant place theology ought to have in our lives even as mature Christians. Read on and then pick up some good theology to read!

Theological questions surround our lives, whether we know it or not. A wife and husband facing infertility inevitably struggle through deep theological questions, whether or not they want to voice them. College students working through issues of identity, culture, politics and ethics struggle – in one way or another – with theological convictions and how to live them. Our concepts about the divine inform our lives more deeply than most people can trace. Whether we view God as distant or near, as gracious or capricious, as concerned or apathetic, the conclusions we reach – whether the result of careful reflection or negligent assumptions – guide our lives.

Keep in mind that Kapic is talking generally about the role of theology in that paragraph. But he goes on to say,

Christians must care deeply about theology. If the true God is renewing our lives and calling us to worship him ‘in spirit and truth’ (Jn.4:24), then such worship includes our thoughts, words, affections and actions. Do we want to worship Yahweh or waste time and effort on a deity we have constructed in our own image? [p.16]

A little later he adds:

Theological reflection is a way of examining our praise, prayers, words and worship with the goal of making sure they conform to God alone. Every age has its own idols, its own distortions that twist and pervert how we view God, ourselves and the world. …We aim not to escape our cultures, however, but to recognize that God calls us to respond faithfully to him in our place and time, whatever our particular social and philosophical climate. We, not just our ancestors, are invited to know and love God – and thus to worship him. [p.18]

Perhaps we can return to more of Kapic’s thoughts in the future. For now, that’s it for this Monday morning.

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”!

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 Cross and Our Sanctification; “Fall on your knees, …and worship.” – D. Powlison

How-sanctification-powlison-2017We have started to look at another new Crossway title – a short book on sanctification. The title is How Does Sanctification Work?,  the author being noted teacher and counselor David Powlison (executive director of Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation).

I have received the book for review and make it available to someone who is interested in the subject. In the meantime, I am profiting from this brief and easy read.

In the third chapter, “Truth Unbalanced and Rebalanced,” Powlison has a section treating how the cross relates to our sanctification. He writes:

…It is also important to remember that Christ’s cross has multiple implications. His dying and death express a number of ways that Scripture is relevant to forming our faith and our obedience.” {p.35]

He proceeds to give seven meanings of the cross that “explain a glory before which we must bow.” I give two of them here for our benefit.

First, consider how the cross reveals the character of God. Mercy meshes with justice. Steadfast love joins holy wrath. The ‘competing sides of God’s self-revelation demonstrate their complete complementarity. God is light so bright that no man can dwell in his presence; God is love so tender that he makes his dwelling place with man.

In other words, the cross is not just about us. Innumerable men and women have found this reality profoundly humbling, comforting, and sanctifying. Something incomprehensibly wonderful unfolds before our eyes. Fall on your knees, put your hand over your mouth, acknowledge your incomprehension, and worship. The cross says, “O come, let us adore him.”

And then he has this for the fifth meaning of the cross as it relates to our sanctification:

Fifth, consider that innumerable children of God find encouragement in the friendship of Christ. A man lays down his life for his friends – and Christ has befriended us. We were once his enemies, but he has won us over and won our hearts. The cross tangibly demonstrates how much God loves, and his love has a winsome effect. His love is more than a benevolent feeling of affection. He makes known his intimate counsel. He shows it by what he does. The cross says, “You are my friend. I open my heart to you and lay down my life for you” (cf. Ps.25:14; John 15:15). [pp.36-27]