Friday, March 21, 2008

Food for Thought as You Prepare that Easter Sermon

This article in USA Today is a must read in light of celebrating the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. If people do not understand sin as rebellion against a holy God, they will not understand why it was necessary for Christ to die and rise from the dead.

HT: Justin Taylor

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Paul: Missionary of Jesus by Paul Barnett

Books on the Apostle Paul that are readable, informed by top-notch scholarship and insightful are hard to come by. But Paul: Missionary of Jesus by Paul Barnett is just such a book.

Barnett does a masterful job of assembling a composite picture of Paul the man, the missionary and theologian. The book is animated by Barnett's interest in demonstrating that Paul was a faithful missionary of Jesus in his ministry to the Gentiles. To make this case Barnett draws together the testimony of Paul's letters, Acts and
information from Greco-Roman and Second Temple Jewish sources. And he does so in a way that is easy to read not just for scholar, seminary student, or pastor, but for the lay person as well.

Part of what makes this book unique is Barnett's ability to incorporate the best of scholarship on Paul without overwhelming or boring the non-academic reader. Paul comes alive as a real human being, rather than the rather artificial image that many Christians have of Paul. And at a mere 200 pages, one does not need to commit the next six months to get through it.

My only gripe with the book is that Barnett does not deal with the early church tradition regarding Paul's release from a first Roman imprisonment for further ministry before being re-arrested in the mid 60s and subsequently being executed. This may have to do with the dearth of sources that make reasonable certainty hard to attain.

In summary, this book deserves wide circulation and will likely become required reading in my New Testament Introduction courses.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson

This past week I had the joy of reading Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson. At 160 pages it is a quick read, and provides an interesting window in life and ministry in French Quebec that for most readers will be unfamiliar. But it is in that context of Carson's ministry that we see a compelling picture of a "real" pastor who labored faithfully despite his own perception of inadequacies. Along the way D. A. Carson recounts some humorous incidents from his childhood (e.g., the time his sister punched a bully who later went on to become a professional hockey player). But the most valuable part of the book may be the nine observations Carson makes regarding his father's often melancholic remarks about his own walk and the slow pace of growth under his ministry (pp. 92-96).

Rather than reproduce them here (go out and buy the book!), I want to quote at length a section where Carson addresses his father's combination of: (1) a work ethic borne out of the Great Depression; (2) a streak of perfectionism; and (3) a lack of proper rest and refreshment. D. A. Carson writes (pp. 92-93) ...
So many aspects of ministry demand excellence, and there are not enough hours in the day to be excellent in all of them. When I was a young man, I heard D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones comment that he would not go across the street to hear himself preach. Now that I am close to the age he was when I heard him, I am beginning to understand. It is rare for me to finish a sermon without feeling somewhere between slightly discouraged and moderately depressed that I have not preached with more unction, that I have not articulated these glorious truths more powerfully and with greater insight, and so forth. But I cannot allow that to drive me to despair; rather, it must drive me to a greater grasp of the simple and profound truth that we preach and visit and serve under the gospel of grace, and God accepts us because of his Son. I must learn to accept myself not because of my putative successes but because of the merits of God’s Son. The ministry is so open-ended that one never feels that all possible work has been done, or done as well as one might like. There are always more people to visit, more studying to be done, more preparation to do. What Christians must do, what Christian leaders must do, is constantly remember that we serve our God and Maker and Redeemer under the gospel of grace.
Amen! Oh that God would raise up a generation of "ordinary" pastors, missionaries and Christian leaders!

Monday, March 03, 2008

Audio from O.U. Talk Now Available

The audio of my talk, "God of Vengeance, God of Love: Is the God of the OT the God of the NT?" is now available on ITunes. Simply go to the music store and in the search box enter "Ohio Campus Crusade." The first result will be "Ohio University Campus Crusade for Christ." If you subscribe to that, my talk ("Matt Harmon") will be the second most recent one available for download.