Monday, March 30, 2009

A Conversation with D.A. Carson, John Piper and Tim Keller

This past week I came across a series of video conversations between Carson, Piper and Keller on the Gospel Coalition website (I'm not sure when they originally were posted). There are ten "chapters" in all:

Chapter 1: Gospel Centered Mercy Ministry vs. The Social Gospel

Chapter 2: What do you look for in a pastoral candidate?

Chapter 3: The importance of continuing mentorship of the pastoral staff?

Chapter 4: What is Gospel-centered and why do you preach against legalism to evangelize libertines?

Chapter 5: How does the gospel and gospel centeredness work to sanctify believers?

Chapter 6: How does the gospel-centered approach work to help a guy conquer the sin of pornography?

Chapter 7: How does Gospel-Centered relate to God-Centered and Cross-Centered especially in conquering sin?

Chapter 8: Why does God appear so stuck on himself? Does this reflect moral weakness in God?

Chapter 9: John Piper and Tim Keller confess they have learned that God-centered and Gospel-centered need each other to be more biblical

Chapter 10: John Piper's Closing Prayer

Of these ten, I found chapters 1, 5, 7, and 9 to be most helpful. But if you can only watch one, I would recommend chapter 9, where Piper and Keller interact on how "God-centered" and "gospel-centered" connect. In the course of this interaction, Piper admits that his language of being "God-centered" at times has not been "Christ-centered" enough. But Keller also admits that in his emphasis on being "gospel-centered" that his language could be misunderstood to be strictly cognitive rather than penetrating to the affections. To whet your appetite, here is a snippet of Piper that captures it well:

"The apex of the glory of God is seen in Christ, and the apex of His glory is seen in the cross, and therefore to be God-centered leads to Christ-centered leads to cross-centered."

Monday, March 23, 2009

History of Redemption Sermon 1

Because this sermon begins the entire series, JE begins with the foundational text (Isaiah 51:8). From that verse ("For the moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm shall eat them like wool: but my righteousness shall be for ever, and my salvation from generation to generation.") JE draws a contrast between the happiness of the church of God and the fate of her enemies. The happiness of the church consists of God's righteousness and salvation. The former (righteousness) JE identifies as God's faithfulness to his covenant promises to the church (N.B. this is similar to some scholars today, though instead of it being faithfulness to the covenant of grace they would argue it is his faithfulness to his covenant with Israel). The latter (salvation) is the outworking of God's righteousness. Based on the mention of "forever" and "from generation to generation" JE asserts that the work of salvation began with the generation of man and will continue until the generations end at the end of the world. All that is left to do in the introduction is to state the doctrine that governs the entire series: "The Work of Redemption is a work that God carries on from the fall of man to the end of world."

Because this opening section sets the stage for the entire series I have given a sizeable summary, but from this point forward in this and the remaining sermons I will be much more selective.

From here JE moves to define terms (he's a Puritan, what else would you expect?). On the one hand the Work of Redemption is used narrowly in Scripture to refer to the purchase of salvation accomplished through the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ (what I might refer to as the micro-gospel). On the other hand, the Work of Redemption more broadly refers to all that God does towards the purchase of salvation, including both what God does to prepare for the purchase and the application of that purchase to his people (what I might refer to as the macro-gospel).

Although JE focuses on the Fall as the beginning point of the Work of Redemption, he takes pains to indicate that there were many things done for the Work of Redemption even before the creation of the world. Indeed, JE argues that God's creation of the world and his ongoing providence over it are for the greater purpose of the Work of Redemption.

The remainder of the sermon identifies five things God purposes to do in the Work of Redemption: (1) place all his enemies under his feet; (2) restore the ruins of the Fall with respect to both the elect and the creation itself; (3) bring into union all of the elect in Christ; (4) complete and perfect the glory of all the elect by Christ; (5) accomplish the glory of the Trinity to an exceeding degree.

Two things in particular strike me from this sermon. First, I appreciate how JE holds together both the micro and macro gospel. In our own day some focus on one to the neglect of the other. Some focus almost exclusively on the death and resurrection of Jesus and its benefits for the salvation of the individual sinner; consequently, they lose sight of the fact that the cross is the inauguration of the new creation that will eventually result in a new heavens and new earth. Others focus almost exclusively on God's plan to make all things new things; as a result, they lose sight of the need for personal repentance and faith to participate in the new creation that God is bringing about through Jesus Christ.

Second, the five distinct purposes of God in the Work of Redemption capture the different strands of the biblical testimony quite well. I know that in my own upbringing within the evangelical tradition that the focus was almost exclusively on God saving the lost. That of course is true, but it was not until I was introduced to the writing of John Piper that I became aware of God's greater end of glorifying himself. And it wasn't until sometime later that the purpose of God defeating his enemies came onto my theological horizons.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The History of the Work of Redemption by Jonathan Edwards

This past week I acquired a work of Jonathan Edwards that I have had on my radar for some time: The History of the Work of Redemption. It originated as a series of 30 sermons that he preached between May-August 1739. His goal in preaching the series was to trace God's work of redemption from the Fall all the way through to the consummation. In other words, it was similar to a biblical theology organized around tracing the storyline of Scripture. He chose as his keynote text Isaiah 51:8

"For the moth will eat them up like a garment, and the worm will eat them like wool; but my righteousness will be forever, and my salvation to all generations."

Launching from this text JE laid out his "doctrine" for the entire series: "The Work of Redemption is a work that God carries on from the fall of man to the end of the world." He restated this doctrine at the beginning of each of the 30 sermons in the series, partly to retain the standard Puritan preaching template and partly to remind his hearers of the central thesis that shaped each sermon no matter where in the biblical storyline JE was.

Towards the end of his life JE expressed his intention to transform this sermon series into a treatise. In a letter to the trustees at Princeton expressing his reluctance to accept their invitation to become the president of the university, JE mentioned this project as one of his top priorities:

"But besides these, I have had on my mind and heart (which I long ago began, not with any view to publication) a great work, which I call A History of the Work of Redemption, a body of divinity in an entire new method, being thrown into the form of an history, considering the affair of Christian theology, as the whole of it, in each part, stands in reference to the great work of redemption by Jesus Christ; which I suppose is to be the grand design of all God's designs, and the summum and ultimum of all the divine operations and degrees; particularly considering all parts of the grand scheme in their historical order. The order of their existence, or their being brought forth to view, in the course of divine dispensations, or the wonderful series of successive acts and events; beginning from eternity and descending from thence to the great work and successive dispensations of the infinitely wise God in time, considering the chief events coming to pass in the church of God, and revolutions in the world of mankind, affecting the state of the church and the affair of redemption, which we have an account of in history or prophecy; till at last we come to the general resurrection, last judgment, and consummation of all things; when it shall be said "It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End" [Revelation 22:13]. Concluding my work, with the consideration of that perfect state of things, which shall be finally settled, to last for eternity. This history will be carried on with regard to all three worlds, heaven, earth, and hell: considering the connected, successive events and alterations, in each so far as the Scriptures give any light; introducing all parts of divinity in that order which is most scriptural and most natural: which is a method which appears to me the most beautiful and entertaining, wherein every divine doctrine, will appear to greatest advantage in the brightest light, in the most striking manner, showing the admirable contexture and harmony of the whole."

Despite his reluctance, JE eventually decided to accept the position as president of Princeton. Unfortunately, he died within a few months of arriving at Princeton from a smallpox inoculation that produced a fever which eventually killed him. Although he had begun collecting additional materials in his notebooks to be incorporated into the revision, he was never able to begin the revisions in earnest. At the urging of the Scottish clergyman John Erskine, JE's son Jonathan Edwards Jr. transcribed the sermon series and sent it off to be published in Scotland in 1774.

Had JE been able to make the intended revisions, I suspect that the finished product would have ranked among JE's most important theological contributions, right alongside works such as Freedom of the Will and Original Sin. As I continue to work my way through this work, I anticipate finding several things to post on in the weeks to come.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Two Very Interesting Articles from this Week

I'm not a big fan of Time Magazine, but as has been noted elsewhere in the blogosphere, they recently released an article entitled Ten Ideas Changing the World Right Now. Third on that list is "The New Calvinism." Referring to individuals like John Piper, Mark Driscoll and Al Mohler, the article highlights how this resurgence of Calvinism is where much of the lifeblood of the broader evangelical movement is found.

Yet just earlier this week a quite different article was published entitled The Coming Evangelical Collapse. Michael Spencer argues the following:
We are on the verge – within 10 years – of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West.

Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants. (Between 25 and 35 percent of Americans today are Evangelicals.) In the "Protestant" 20th century, Evangelicals flourished. But they will soon be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century.

This collapse will herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian West. Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become hostile toward evangelical Christianity, seeing it as the opponent of the common good.

Millions of Evangelicals will quit. Thousands of ministries will end. Christian media will be reduced, if not eliminated. Many Christian schools will go into rapid decline. I'm convinced the grace and mission of God will reach to the ends of the earth. But the end of evangelicalism as we know it is close.

Without implying that these two are the only options, do you find yourself encouraged by the growth of the new Calvinism and see it as a sign of good times to come for the evangelical movement? Or are you more inclined to see the end of evangelicalism as we know it? Or do you foresee some combination of the two?

Monday, March 02, 2009

ESV Study Bible Online - Free Access to ALL

Although I am generally not a fan of study Bibles, I have found the ESV Study Bible to be a fantastic resource. I even bought one for my lovely wife, who has clung to her NIV Study Bible for many years.

One of the features that I have most enjoyed is that the entire contents of the ESV STudy Bible are available online to those who have purchased a print copy. In addition to all of the articles, notes, maps, diagrams, etc. you have the ability to store personalized notes and other neat features.

For a limited time (through March 31), Crossway is allowing even those who have not purchased a print copy access to the online site. You can find the details here. If you are at all curious about the ESV Study Bible, this is your chance to check it out for yourself. I do not think you will be disappointed.