Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Book Review: The Prodigal God by Tim Keller

This year I have dedicated most of my bible reading to the Gospels. I have just finished reading the Gospel According to Luke which is the one gospel I have probably payed the least attention to since I became a Christian. I found myself moved by Jesus’ love for outcasts and those on the fringes of society. Jesus himself summarizes his mission as “coming to seek and save the lost”. When I came to the story of the lost coin, lost sheep and lost sons I was so moved by the relentless love of God for sinners that I knew I wanted to spend more time thinking on these things. I scanned my bookshelf and my eyes were drawn to Tim Keller’s book, The Prodigal God. I had started to read this several years ago on an airplane on my way to the very first Gospel Coalition conference in Chicago; I only got a quarter of the way through and then put it down until now. 

Tim Keller has a unique ability to communicate truths in a clear and concise manner. He points out that the parable we find in Luke 15 is often called the Parable of the Lost Son; however, the Parable of the Lost Two Sons would be more fitting. Keller says that we tend to focus on the younger son who squanders his inheritance. Luke, on the other hand, places this story in the context of Jesus’ confrontation with the religious leaders  (the elder brother) over his fraternizing with sinners and tax collectors (the younger brother). The younger son is still a part of the story but Keller, rightly in my mind, brings out the prominence of the elder. 

Throughout the book Keller argues that based on this story we need to redefine a few categories. Sin, for instance, is usually defined as the breaking of moral rules. The elder brother, though, is a good rule keeper. It is his pride in his rule-keeping that is keeping him from joining in the feast. Lostness is redefined as well as the idea of thinking you can put God in your debt. In my favourite chapter, Keller redefines hope in terms of exile and returning home. I am a totally nostalgic person and very much related to this story:

“Many of us have fond memories of times, people, and places where we felt we were truly home. However, if we ever have an opportunity to get back to the places we remember so fondly, we are usually disappointed. For thirty-nine years my wife, Kathy, spent summer with her family in a ramshackle cottage on the shores of Lake Erie. The very memory of that place is nourishing to Kathy’s spirit. But returning to the actual, now dilapidated property is a gut wrenching experience…Home, then, is an elusive concept.”

Later he writes, “We may work hard to re-create the home that we have lost, but, says the Bible, it only exists in the presence of the Heavenly Father from which we have fled”.

This is yet another good resource that is good for the the Christian and non-Christian alike. It would be a good book to pass along to someone who is curious about the Christian faith and wants to learn more.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Book Review: Core Christianity

Perhaps one of my favourite genre of books (if you can call it a genre) are those that offer brief and robust introductions to the Christian faith. The best are those that not only give a good overview for unbelievers but also strengthen the faith of believers. Core Christianity by Michael Horton is such a book. The main strength is that Horton doesn't just present Christianity as a set of timeless truths to which we give mental assent; rather, the Christian faith is a part of God's unfolding story to which we are invited to take part. He successfully paints a comprehensive picture using four D's (Drama, Doctrine, Doxology and Discipleship). These themes are laid out in an initial chapter and then they run right through the rest of the book. Simply put, Drama is the unfolding of God's redemptive story throughout history. This gives way to particular truths (or doctrines) which cause God's people to respond in worship (doxology). When God's people engage in worship they are truly led into right living (discipleship). I really appreciate how Horton laid out the story of the bible using a covenantal structure. It is through God's covenants with his people through redemptive history that he accomplishes his purposes culminating in the coming of Jesus Christ and his kingdom. He lays it out in such a way so that we see the need for a Messiah and not just an ahistorical perfect-God-man that comes to snatch people up into heaven. Even way that dispensationalists and progressive covenantalists can benefit from. Throughout the book I found that I was actually stopping and giving praise to God for what he has done in Jesus. I was engaged in the story and the truths that I found there caused me to bow down and worship. If Horton is right, then this should ultimately shape me into a better disciple.

Monday, March 5, 2012

5 Reasons Everyone Who Repents and Believes Should Be Baptized...Right Away

Yesterday Tim Challies posted an article titled, At What Age Should We Baptize, where he outlined four (4) different views. The issue was, "should we baptize children or shouldn't we?" Only one of the four views suggested that we should baptize children who profess faith in Christ; the others suggest that there should be a period of waiting. In practice that means there is a specific age we should wait until (i.e. 12) or until a person is mature (i.e. they have their license, can vote in membership meetings, etc.) until we baptize them. Anyone who says that the bible teaches a period of waiting will have a hard time proving it from God's word. It's not there. Some respond by saying, "well the bible doesn't teach that people should get baptized right away!" I would respond by saying 1) that is an argument from silence and 2) That's not true. It's in the bible.

We need to be careful about our questions. Not all questions are good questions. And I think the question, "Should we baptize children?" is an example of a bad question. It's a bad question because it asks something very specific that the bible doesn't have a specific answer for. And when the bible doesn't give the specific answer that we are seeking we begin to argue from silence. A better question would be, "Should every person who repents and believes be baptized right away?" I think the bible comes a lot closer to answering this question and I think the answer is a resounding YES! I can think of five reasons (there are probably more):

1) It's Commanded and Essential to Evangelism

"'Turn back!' replied Peter. 'Be baptized - every single one of you - in the name of Jesus the Messiah, so that your sins can be forgiven and you will receive the gift of the holy spirit. The promise is for you and for your children, and for everyone who is far away, as many as the Lord our God will call.'" (Acts 2:38-39)

Peter preaches the gospel. He tells the story of Jesus and says there is a proper response to that story. Repent (turn back), believe, and be baptized. This is what one must do in order to participate in the gospel. A person cannot believe and not repent. A person cannot repent and not be baptized. A person cannot be baptized and not believe. These are all essential responses to the gospel and essential ingredients to true biblical evangelism. Scot McKnight says, "There is no such thing as gospeling that does not include the summons to respond in faith, baptism and repentance." It is our duty as Christians to follow King Jesus by dying and rising with him. It's our duty as preachers of the gospel to command that people participate in the death of Jesus. If we do not get baptized as Christians we are being disobedient to our King. If we do not command those who have repented and believed to be baptized we are being disobedient. To not command this is tantamount to telling a person they can believe but repent later. It's also interesting to note that Peter emphasizes that this promise is for everyone, namely, for you and for your children.

2) It's Practiced

"As they were going along the road, they came to some water. 'Look!' said the eunuch. 'Here is some water! What's to stop me being baptized?' So he gave order for the chariot to stop, and both of them went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch together, and he baptized him." (Acts 8:35-38)

Perhaps you might be thinking that the eunuch isn't a child and that he was a mature person (he was after all driving a chariot). But the real issue behind the "should we baptize children" question is issue of having assurance that a little one has actually experienced the new birth. And isn't it interesting that Philip does not seem to be asking those questions at all. There is no waiting time to see whether or not the eunuch displays true fruit. In fact he even asks, "What's to stop me being baptized?" Philip does not say, "Well actually I would prefer to see some fruit first." So what's the difference? If Philip isn't concerned about waiting to test the faith of the eunuch why should we make a broad rule that excludes an entire segment of Christians from baptism? I don't think Philip would and I don't think we should either. Moreover, as were about to see, perhaps people aren't bearing fruit because we're withholding baptism.

3) It Is Necessary for Participating in the New Covenant

"In him, indeed, you were circumcised with a special, new type of circumcision. It isn't something that human hands can do. It is the king's version of circumcision, and it happens when you put off the 'body of flesh': when you're buried with him in baptism, and indeed also raised with him, through faith in the power of the God who raised him from the dead." (Colossians 2:11-12)

This one is more controversial. Paul is speaking to the Christians in Colossae and is warning them not to be taken captive by false teaching. Christ is sufficient. In him they have experienced circumcision but it is not like circumcision under the old covenant. It is an "effective" circumcision.It is here that Paul makes a connection between the old covenant sign of circumcision and the new covenant sign of baptism. To be circumcised was what one had to do in order to become a member of the old covenant but it had no real effect on the person; but now, the Messiah has come and God is building his worldwide family, there is a new sign for a new covenant, namely, baptism (i.e. dying and rising with Christ), that actually transforms a person. The new birth and baptism are intertwined. Many people are concerned about separating them. But Paul speaks as if they are intimately joined together (what God has joined together...). It is when we were baptized that we died with Christ. And in order to be raised we need to die. If we aren't baptized then we don't die. I'm not quite sure how far to take this (the thief on the cross was obviously a true Christian and was not baptized); but Paul seems to assume baptism and speaks as if it were the moment we participated in the new birth. In other words, we don't want to mess around with baptism and start withholding it from people. It should be done in coordination with repentance and faith. It is the entry point of the new covenant.

4) It's Necessary for Unity

"You see, every one of you who has been baptized into the Messiah has put on the Messiah. There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no "male and female"; you are all one in the Messiah, Jesus." (Galatians 3:27-28)

"You sit over there and we'll sit over here". This is one of the problems that Paul is trying to break down in his letter to the Galatians. The Jews were treating the Gentiles as second class citizens in the Kingdom of God because they hadn't undergone physical circumcision. But Paul argues that they are living in the wrong time zone. Circumcision was indeed important but it always pointed to a greater reality. The point of God's covenant with Israel was to make a single united worldwide family who had the ability to love God and others from their hearts. Now that the Messiah has come it is now the time for this worldwide family to be built. And the sign that you are apart of this new covenant family isn't physical circumcision but faith and...baptism! Baptism isn't a work that one must do in order to earn favor with God but it is God's way of making people die and rise with the Messiah (it's right there in the text). And that's what counts. It doesn't matter what family you were born into, what sex you are or how old you are. What matters is that you have been buried and brought back to life. This is what unites us as Christians. Faith and baptism. We shouldn't point to anything else. This is another reason why people shouldn't wait to be baptized. Unity in the new covenant requires faith and baptism in the Messiah.

5) It is Necessary for Accountability and Fighting Sin

"What are we to say, then? Shall we continue in the state of sin, so that grace may increase? Certainly not! We died to sin; how can we still live in it? Don't you know that all of us who were baptized into the Messiah, Jesus, were baptized into his death? That means that we were buried with him, through baptism, into death, so that, just as the Messiah was raised from the dead through the father's glory, we too might behave with a new quality of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall also be in the likeness of his resurrection." (Romans 6:1-5).

This passage is about justification, new life and (lo and behold) baptism. Anyone who says that this isn't about 'physical' baptism but 'spiritual' baptism needs to read all the others passages where Paul speaks of this reality. Time after time he links baptism to the moment we died and rose with Christ. Paul wants the Christians in Rome to know that it is inappropriate for them to continue in sin because of who they are in the Messiah. We need a good reminder every now and again because it's easy to forget who we are. And the moment he points them to is the moment of their baptism. You want to know why it isn't appropriate for you to behave in certain ways? It's because you died and rose with Christ; and those who die and rise walk in a new way. We have been given the power to put sin to death. As Paul says, "we have been set free (lit. justified) from sin." If someone you know is falling into sin and turning their back on God one way to point them in the right direction is to remind them of their baptism. If you are struggling with sin one way to do battle against it is to remind yourself of your baptism and remind yourself that you have the power to walk in newness of life.

Perhaps all this talk about baptism and new birth makes you uncomfortable. But you need to ask yourself something. Why is it that the new testament authors link repentance, faith and baptism so closely together? They do no separate them so why should we? And why should it makes us uncomfortable if it didn't make them feel that way? If we are encouraging people to repent and believe (no matter what age) we should also be encouraging them to be baptized. Anything less is disobedience and a hindrance to Christian growth. There are three appropriate responses to the gospel: repentance, faith and baptism. You can't have two without the other. Everyone who repents and believes needs to be baptized...right away.

(*I have argued this as a baptist. I believe it is only appropriate for people to be baptized who have responded appropriately to the gospel in the two other ways.)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Helpful Gospel Definitions

Over the past few years Trevin Wax has been doing a series of blog posts entitled "Gospel Definitions". In them he quotes various authors/scholars stating what the gospel is. Here are some that I find particularly helpful:

C.H. Dodd

“The Gospel” Summarized in 6 Parts

The Age of Fulfillment has dawned, the “latter days” foretold by the prophets. (Acts 3:18-26)
This has taken place through the birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (Acts 2:22-31)
By virtue of the resurrection, Jesus has been exalted at the right hand of God as Messianic head of the new Israel. (Acts 2:32-36)
The Holy Spirit in the church is the sign of Christ’s present power and glory. (Acts 10:44-48)
The Messianic Age will reach its consummation in the return of Christ. (Acts 3:20-21)
An appeal is made for repentance with the offer of forgiveness, the Holy Spirit, and salvation. (Acts 2:37-41)

F.F. Bruce

The basic elements in the message were these:

1. the prophecies have been fulfilled and the new age inaugurated by the coming of Christ;
2. he was born into the family of David;
3. he died according to the Scriptures, to deliver his people from this evil age;
4. he was buried, and raised again the third day, according to the Scriptures;
5. he is exalted at God’s right hand as Son of God, Lord of living and dead;
6. he will come again, to judge the world and consummate his saving work.”

Michael Bird

“Taken together we can infer from I Corinthians 15:3 – 5, Romans 1:1-4 and II Timothy 2:8, that the gospel is both about the person and work of Christ.

“God promised in the scriptures that He would renew creation and restore Israel. The gospel is the good news that God has made these promises good in Jesus, the Messiah and Lord. Jesus died and rose for the purpose of atoning for sins, and through faith in Him and His work believers are reconciled to God.

“The new age has been launched and God has revealed His saving righteousness in the gospel so that He justifies and delivers persons from the penalty and power of sin and death.”

J.I. Packer

“I formulate the Gospel this way: it is information issuing in invitation; it is proclamation issuing in persuasion. It is an admonitory message embracing five themes. First, God: the God whom Paul proclaimed to the Athenians in Acts 17, the God of Christian theism.

Second, humankind: made in God’s image but now totally unable to respond to God or do anything right by reason of sin in their moral and spiritual system. Third, the person and work of Christ: God incarnate, who by dying wrought atonement and who now lives to impart the blessing that flows form his work of atonement.

Fourth, repentance, that is, turning from sin to God, from self-will to Jesus Christ. And fifthly, new community: a new family, a new pattern of human togetherness which results from the unity of the Lord’s people in the Lord, henceforth to function under the one Father as a family and a fellowship.” (44, emphasis added)

Friday, May 13, 2011

Gospel Meals

“And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax-collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him” (Mark 2.15).

My church loves food. This is a good thing because I love food too. Years ago we started a ministry called “fellowship lunch” (which is essentially an enormous pot-luck (providence?)) that takes place about once a month. There is something about food, something about table-fellowship, that we know is right. When we are sitting down, eating and fellowshipping we know in our bones that “this is the way things were meant to be!” Why is that?

The Gospel of Mark points us in the right direction. Mark, like my church and like me, is obsessed with food. In Mark 2 Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners, in Mark 6 Jesus feeds 5000, in Mark 8 Jesus feeds 4000, in Mark 14 Jesus is eating when he is anointed and later is eating with his disciples when he inaugurates the Lord’s Supper (a meal we celebrate again and again), and there is also a meal in the extended ending of the gospel in Mark 16. As if that weren’t enough, he includes an entire “bread section” spanning from 6:33-8:26 in which the word bread (greek. ortos) occurs no less than seventeen times. That’s a lot of food!

Through these meals Mark clarifies for his readers who Jesus is and what he came to do. God’s plan and promise was to send his Messiah (i.e. the liberating-king) to Israel to establish his new society and rescue his people from the evil that enslaved them. This plan was, all along, not just for “righteous” Israel but was meant for the entire world; Jew and Gentile alike, righteous and unrighteous.

When God came he would set his people right and set his world right so that there would be a renewed people under the rule of God’s king in God’s place. Sinners would be healed and God’s people would have fellowship with him and with one another. When this happened it would be an enormous celebration. And the point is that in Jesus all these things are coming true.

This is what the cross and resurrection is all about. Jesus gave himself so people could be liberated from their sin and brought safely into his kingdom. His body, the bread, and his blood, the wine, are given to make all things new. Now all who give up their lives for Jesus participate in the life of God’s new world. The party has begun. The feast is taking place. Jesus calls out to the world and says, “Pull up a chair. It’s on me.”

Monday, December 20, 2010

Review: The Real Mary by Scot McKnight

How do you talk about Jesus' mama? That's a good question to ask. If we are honest, most of us talk more about what we don't believe about Mary than about what we do. You can count on a guy like Scot McKnight to call us (evangelicals) out on that one (I mean that in a good way). And that's exactly what he does in this book.

I know that I haven't thought too much about Mary in the past. I know that Catholics make a lot of her (I just went to Montreal this summer and saw the light show at Notre Dame which proves that point). And I also know that God chose her to be the bearer of the Messiah. So what?

McKnight helps us to make sense of Mary. In her song (known as the Magnificat) she says that "from now on people will call me blessed." McKnight goes through the various stories of Mary so that Evangelicals can call the mother of our Lord (God?) blessed.

Mary longed for God to come to his people and establish his kingdom, his new society of justice and peace. Like most people Mary probably thought that the Messiah would march into Jerusalem, kill the Romans and establish his throne. God visited Mary and told her that she would give birth to God's anointed one. Mary submitted to the will of God even though she knew people would consider her an adulteress. But Mary rejoiced because God was going to subvert those on the throne and make her own son King. Promises upon promises. But Mary would discover that things weren't going to be quite as straightforward as she thought. God would indeed bring his new society where his will is done. But this would happen through the suffering of her own son. Mary continued to learn what kind of Messiah her son was to be throughout his life. Jesus placed a priority on loving God which challenged the honor-your-parent commandment; it showed Mary that she would have to submit to her own son as Lord and that Jesus was establishing a new family with himself as the focus.

McKnight also helpfully discusses what Catholics believe about Mary. He tries to avoid caricatures but is still critical at times. In the last chapter McKnight helps us figure out what to do with Mary. One of his suggestions is that we hold an "honor Mary" day where we return to the stories of Mary and glean fresh insight. Mary is a great example of what it means to follow Jesus in the real world.

This book is an excellent Christmas read and, best of all, the gospel shines through in nearly every chapter. Highly recommended!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Impressions: Embracing Grace by Scot McKnight

At a small group I was at one Sunday we were having a conversation about how we apply the gospel to our lives as Christians. We made the observation that for some Christians the gospel is something for non-believers, something that you don't really think about once you get saved. What I have found hard is that some people reduce the gospel to a few propositions about having your sins forgiven so that it can be difficult to apply it to every situation in life. Enter Scot McKnight. Embracing Grace is a book about the gospel. It tells us that the gospel is something that we proclaim but that we perform as well.

Here is how McKnight explains the work of the gospel:
"The gospel is the work of God to restore humans in union with God and communion with others, in the context of a community for the good of others and the world"


Eikons: Mcknight says that it is important where we begin when we are thinking about the gospel. McKnight begins with creation and the story of the Eikon (the greek word for "image"). Humans are made in the image of God which means they are God's special creation and are like Him in some way; we are made for relationships with God, others and the world.

Holistic: McKnight's view of sin and atonement are robust. This is because he has a holistic view of the two. Sin is not merely the breaking of a law (although it does include that) but culpable shalom-breaking which affects our relationship with God, others and the world. If we are dealing with a robust problem then we need a robust solution. McKnight emphasizes the importance of the incarnation, the life, death, resurrection and pentecost to the atonement (and therefore the gospel). He favors the recapitulation theory (i.e. Jesus became what we are so we can become what he is) since it can fairly incorporate all the other important theories of atonement (in his book A Community Called Atonment he calls this "identification for incorporation").

Community: God saves individuals but individualism is an enemy of the gospel. God accomplishes his redemptive purposes in the context of communities (i.e. Israel, the Church, and the Kingdom). McKnight's definition of the kingdom can not be divorced from community (and why would it? a kingdom always includes people.). God's kingdom is his society where his will is done. It includes people. God restores us to union with him and communion with others in the context of a community, the kingdom community.

Missional: God creates this community for the good of the world. This is the part that I actually struggled with the most. But when we understand Jesus' words in Matthew 5 everything falls into place. We are to be God's kingdom community that acts as salt and light in this world so that others will glorify God because of the good we do.

McKnight's book has helped me to appreciate the gospel more. With his framework we can actually preach the gospel from the Gospels.