In The Mail – Fall Term 1

I’ll be taking Systematic Theology parts 1 and 2 through the fall terms, and the third portion sometime later. Fall Term 1 starts August 1, so I had to order my textbooks. Today was the day they arrived! I do love getting books in the mail (hint, hint)!

textbooks for systematic theology
About to go down a systematic theology rabbit hole!

Actually, From the Mouth of God had arrived weeks back, as I ordered it well in advance. But the others all arrived boxed up together. Quick run through of what we have:

Wayne Grudem’s is the primary/required text. The others are all “supplementary”, which in this case means “required if you want to get a good grade.” I’ll just add these to my current pastoral reading, devotional reading, and my church’s residency reading lists. May be some thin times in the near future for recreational reading…

-G

Worldview and Discipleship: The Excluded Middle

No Shortcut to Success
No Shortcut to Success

Since the second day of T4G 2022, I’ve been reading no shortcut to success, and I have been loving it. But chapter 8 took things to a whole other level as it addressed worldview and discipleship. There is just so much in it to commend to you, my reader.

Getting There

More than once I’ve heard it said that if you can only read a part of this book, read chapters 1-3. And those first few chapters, where Matt Rhodes lays out the issues he is seeing on the field, are great. They are clear, helpful, challenging. But more than anything, I reached the end with a feeling of, “A ton of this applies not only to missionaries, but to pastors and elders here at home.”

Mark Dever, in the forward, suggests, “Particularly important are chapters 2, 3, 6, and 9.” (p.14) And for sure, chapter 6 is important, articulating the need for clarity in proclaiming the gospel and, especially, taking the time to learn the language. Being a language nerd in the extreme, I needed little encouragement to the importance of this task for the missionary. And had I found a quote to share, it could easily have been ignored; “Of course he would say that!”

But, despite Dever not highlighting it, I want to draw attention to chapter 8, with the following quote:

According to missiologist Paul Hiebert, missionaries often succumb to the “flaw of the excluded middle.” In other words, they address people’s “lower” needs – things like disease that are seen, felt, and experienced – and their “highest” needs – things like answers to life’s most important questions. In doing so, however, they ignore a vast “middle” of people’s worldviews. For example, what about things like “mana, astrological forces, charms, amulets and magical rites, evil eye, evil tongue”? On these topics, people are generally left undiscipled. It isn’t difficult to imagine a similar situation in which one’s “highest” beliefs about God and the afterlife were more or less correct, but one’s fundamental “middle beliefs” about money, power, sexuality, other ethnicities, alcohol, and the worth of women were confused, at best, and downright depraved at worst. Perhaps we don’t even have to look too far in some of our own churches to find such cases.

p.180

I just had to stop reading there for a moment. This is the struggle churches and pastors face every day. We have a culture (here in the US) that has been, to a great degree, saturated with the rough outline of the gospel, but knows little of its implications. The world is enamored of the “lower” message and how the church can get on board with their humanistic agenda. Any time the church deviates even the slightest from this focus, it risks losing the world’s attention, or more, its commendation. And so many churches are content to earn the applause of the world by “meeting people where they live.”

The Excluded Middle

And all the while, there is this “middle.” What does our culture value? What are some cultural assumptions and expectations, the axioms that drive how we think, talk, and act? The following values quickly come to mind:

  • Performance
  • Results
  • Fame
  • Youth
  • The American dream
  • Freedom and autonomy
  • Privacy
  • Self-esteem
  • The Individual

Each of these left to itself can wreak havoc on gospel proclamation and cause real needs to go unmet. Worldview colors the way we relate to one another, the way we make decisions as a body, the way we hold one another accountable, and the way we worship. It affects who we invite into our lives and who we reject, who we listen to and who we won’t.

On the mission field, no less than here, the goal ought to be churches being built up, whose members are growing in holiness. They are being discipled into mature believers. And the danger is we may skip this for sound bites and numbers (Performance? Results?). Because discipling worldview takes time and is messy. Or maybe we believe that worldview will work itself out. Or that we can avoid having a run-in with the world and its systems if we just stick to “the gospel.” But the gospel includes worldview! As much as we neglect the hard and long work of worldview discipleship, we neglect to actually teach them “to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 18:20)

As a pastor, it definitely gives me pause.

Complete Patience

Speaking on pastoral caution when dealing with change, and recounting advice given to him by a trusted and “seasoned” pastor, H. B. Charles Jr. points the reader at 2 Timothy 4:2. Rather than focus on the “preach the Word” part, these men instead point us to the closing words, “…with complete patience and teaching.” Some great comments flow out of this:

“Complete patience” is long-suffering. It is patience with difficult people, not just difficult circumstances. This is not an easy thing to do. Remember, Moses stood courageous before Pharaoh and demanded that he let the people of God go free. But when those same people started complaining, Moses sinned against God and was disqualified from leading the children of Israel into Canaan. As pastors, we must not play the Jonah…I’m talking the Jonah at the end of the story, who carried out his ministry assignment with a hateful attitude towards the very people he was called to serve. We must patiently love the people the Lord has called us to lead and teach.

How do you learn to practice complete patience with the people you pastor? I believe it happens through a commitment to biblical teaching. Teaching explains and exhorts biblical truth…Our willingness to teach the Word with complete patience demonstrates our confidence in Scripture. It reveals that you believe in the sufficiency of God’s Word to do its work in the life of the church. At the end of the day, true spiritual change does not happen by “casting vision.” It happens by faithfully teaching doctrinal truth. This is an essential but neglected key to faithful and effective pastoral ministry.

On Pastoring, pp.89-90

All this goes towards making a great point. Sometimes, it is best to be slow. Our culture’s quest for speed and results doesn’t always line up with God’s timing. Teach, and teach again. Or as he comments, “Teach it. Then wait. Teach it again. Then wait. Teach. And wait.” If our aim is more than numbers, more than just a big reputation – whether good or bad – then we must be about the long haul. Commit to patiently and lovingly teach God’s word. A healthy church does not just materialize over night. It is the fruit of patient work. More than that, it is a work of God’s Spirit through that consistent and patiently preached and taught Word.

Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs

Concise Theology ★★★★★ (5/5)

Concise Theology is well worth the read. In short bursts of two to three pages each (usually), J.I. Packer proceeds to lay out historic Christian beliefs for his readers. While I would have loved to see just a bit more at times, overall, I thought the pacing and breakdown was excellent.

Packer is pastoral, caring for the body of Christ, and passionate, reveling in the glories of Christ, the work of the Spirit and the majesty of the Father. Even when I either disagreed or would have stated something slightly differently, I found him to demonstrate humility and patience, no easy task when your intent is to be concise.

The Law

For example, in addressing the old testament law, I would argue against the tri-partite breakdown of a “moral, judicial and ritual law”, fleshed out more fully as “moral…political…and ceremonial.” (pp.90-92). Certainly, the Mosaic law contained all of these, but that it had a self-aware division along these lines, such that the ceremonial/ritual law could be of “limited application” in contrast to the moral law, is not immediately apparent. Instead, the whole law, even the decalogue, seems to intermix these various statutes and regulations in a way that is difficult to unwind.

Baptism

Dealing with baptism, I found his handling to be amazingly understanding. He acknowledges historical and present disagreements, while maintaining the deep connection among those with a reformed soteriology (specifically speaking of Presbyterian and Baptistic formulations). From a baptistic perspective, I wished that he was applying the regulative principle, rather than just stating it, as I believe he would likely find the admitted lack of scriptural warrant for paedo-baptism (p.214) as a powerful argument in favor of believer’s baptism. But I was thoroughly appreciative of his patient and measured approach. His last statement gives just a bit of the flavor of that: “The ongoing debate is not about nurture but about God’s way of defining the church.” (p.216) I heartily agree!

And as a way of wrapping that thought up, and finishing my response to this book, I offer the following quote:

The task of the church is to make the invisible kingdom visible through faithful Christian living and witness-bearing. The gospel of Christ is still the gospel of the kingdom (Matt. 4:23; 24:14; Acts 20:25; 28:23, 31), the good news of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit through entering a disciple’s relationship to the living Lord (Rom. 14:17). The church must make its message credible by manifesting the reality of kingdom life.

Concise Theology, p.194

If the task of the church is to “make the invisible kingdom visible”, and I whole-heartedly agree it is, then let’s baptize accordingly!

Again, a well-written, helpfully concise overview of historic Christian beliefs. Get it, read it, and dig deep into God’s word.

-redbeard

Election: A Pastoral Doctrine

Continuing this morning in Concise Theology, I offer the following:

The doctrine of election, like every truth about God, involves mystery and sometimes stirs controversy. But in Scripture it is a pastoral doctrine, brought in to help Christians see how great is the grace that saves them, and to move them to humility, confidence, joy, praise, faithfulness, and holiness in response. It is the family secret of the children of God. We do not know who else he has chosen among those who do not yet believe, nor why it was his good pleasure to choose us in particular. What we do know is, first, that had we not been chose for life we would not be believers now (for only the elect are brought to faith), and second, that as elect believers we may rely on God to finish in us the good work that he started…

Concise Theology, pp.149-50

In a day and age that proclaims the surpassing glory of human self-determination we do well to remind ourselves of what we find in John’s gospel. Jesus draws to himself all those whom the Father gives him. What rest and peace, what humbling truth!

And I just love the line, “…it is the family secret of the children of God.” What an inheritance!

The All-Sufficient Savior: He is risen!

Concise Theology

While in the Old Testament the mediating roles of prophet, priest, and king were fulfilled by separate individuals, all three offices now coalesce in the one person of Jesus. It is his glory, given him by the Father, to be in this way the all-sufficient Savior. We who believe are called to understand this and to show ourselves his people by obeying him as our king, trusting him as our priest, and learning from him as our prophet and teacher. To center on Jesus Christ in this way is the hallmark of authentic Christianity.

Concise Theology, p. 133

What an awesome way to end the brief look at the concept of mediation, and a great reflection for an Easter morning. Doesn’t hurt that my local church has been in John 5-6 for the last month, seeing Jesus proclaim his all-sufficiency in salvation, fleshing out the glory given him by the Father.

Packer’s Concise Theology is a fairly easy read so far. As the name declares, each topic is covered only briefly. It’s a good addition to our pastoral residency reading list.

May your day be blessed through a growing knowledge of the grace offered to you by the one and only savior, our Lord Jesus Christ. Peace and love, fellow servants!

-redbeard

To Love Those To Whom We Preach

I am absolutely loving the 40th Anniversary edition of Preaching and Preachers, by Martyn Lloyd-Jones. His writing is passionate, clear, and helpful for anyone considering or engaged in the task of preaching. That’s not to say I wouldn’t quibble here and there – his comments on lay preaching (pp.113ff), for example – but overall, I’ve definitely benefited from considering the task of preaching and pastoring through this shepherd’s eyes.

As he begins to deal with the act of preaching, and what sort of character and attitudes should go into it, I was particularly struck by “urgency”. This is an area where I can certainly grow, allowing the message to both work on me as I prepare, and then work in the delivery so that the body recognizes deep down that this is not just more information, but necessary for their spiritual health and walk together as a body.

But for all that, the following caught my eye, as Lloyd-Jones deals with “pathos and power”:

Preaching & Preachers

Richard Cecil, an Anglican preacher in London towards the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth said something which should make us all think. ‘To love to preach is one thing, to love those to whom we preach quite another.’ The trouble with some of us is that we love preaching, but we are not always careful to make sure that we love the people to whom we are actually preaching. If you lack this element of compassion for the people you will also lack the pathos which is a very vital element in all true preaching. Our Lord looked out upon the multitude and ‘saw them as sheep without a shepherd’, and was ‘filled with compassion’. And if you know nothing of this you should not be in a pulpit, for this is certain to come out in your preaching. We must not be purely intellectual or argumentative, this other element must be there. Not only will your love for the people produce this pathos, the matter itself is bound to do this in and of itself. What can possibly be more moving than a realization of what God in Christ has done for us? Any attempt therefore to consider and to understand it should move us profoundly.

Preaching and Preachers, pp. 105-106

As we inch closer to Easter, its a good reminder that those who are elders and pastors are under-shepherds. We must be diligent to emulate the Great Shepherd, to learn true compassion from its source. We must not forget to love as we strive to persuade. And as we grow in skill and confidence, we must not founder in care. For certainly, the sheep will smell out the fake.

-redbeard

On Pastoring – Guard The Bank

On Pastoring

Lately, I’ve been reading On Pastoring by H.B. Charles, Jr. a few minutes each day. It has short, powerful and incisive chapters that are perfect for quick reads while waiting for other things to complete. In any case, the following from yesterday caught my attention:

A new pastor began his ministry with the key leaders of the church board. The church board members introduced themselves and told the new pastor about their area of ministry. Each department leader proceeded to tell him what was expected of him, stressing the importance of their department, and making it clear that the kingdom of heaven was at hand only if the pastor devoted his chief energy to that department. The long series of speeches and the tension-filled atmosphere made it impossible for him to give a detailed reply to all he heard. So when the series of priority-shaping speeches finally ended, the pastor stood up and said, “Thank you for your advice. I will try to please you all, but I shall try most of all to please God.” He then prayed and ended the meeting.

This is what it means to guard the bank. Do not allow yourself to be distracted by secondary things. Do not use your strength to climb a ladder that is leaning against the wrong wall. Do not spend your energy running in different directions at the same time to please people. Focus on the things that spread the gospel, build up the saints, and glorify the Lord.

On Pastoring, p.67

He goes from there to looking at Acts 20:28-31, reflecting on Paul’s own attitude along these same lines. It is just so easy to get caught up in “good” things, and allow the main things – the bank – to get robbed. The attempt to please everybody, especially, tends towards distraction, and ultimately, failure to accomplish the task actually before us. Pleasing our Lord Jesus comes first in the task of pastoring, as it does in any other endeavor. It is no wonder our church articulates “Treasuring Jesus Christ” as our first mission!

And with that in mind, pray for me that I will be focused and diligent with the things God has put in front of me. I pray you too will treasure Jesus Christ today, and serve him first and most.

A Little Bit of Written Dari

This afternoon I completed lessons one and two in Beginner’s Dari (Hippocrene’s Beginner Series). I had to stop after lesson 2, as my hand was cramping up. There is a learning curve, and the group of letters jeem, che, he and khe were causing me a bit of difficulty to execute with any sort of similarity to their printed beauty. Then again, I think my green Sarasa pen does add a certain je ne sais quoi to the study of Dari.

Lesson one covered only one letter, aleph. Lesson two, as you can see above, covered two groups of similar looking letters. The first set was be, pe, te and se, which all look like bowls in their final forms, with varying numbers of dots (1, 3, 2 and 3, respectively). The second set was the one causing me to grip too tightly, resulting in some sore digits. Best I can describe them as is a rather Tolkien-esque ‘T’, again with a varying number of dots (1, 3, 0 and 1, respectively). At least, that’s what they look like in final form.

To me, the flow of the book seems a little out of joint. They want you to practice writing words, but are including letters that they haven’t explained how to write yet (like the ‘g’ in jag (“pitcher”), especially in joined form. I certainly attempted to mimic, though I am finding the print size and ink-bleed to be less than helpful!

Luckily, I’ve practiced Arabic script before, so it is not so much “first time” as “catching back up to speed”. It has been quite a while, though…

Back From The Mountains – Ezekiel Edition

Coming back from Banner Elk, NC this evening, I found the textbooks for my next class on my doorstep. Starting in April I am taking Hebrew Exegesis of Ezekiel at SBTS. It will be a continuation of the study in Hebrew I have done since last fall.

Texts for studying Ezekiel

Unfortunately, “on my doorstep” means it encountered some of today’s rain. Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia was unscathed, wrapped in a layer of thin but protective plastic. Ezekiel was not so fortunate, and has a number of splotches of water damage, mostly confined to the back cover.

This post has been rather difficult, as my computer is giving me issues, stemming from a battery failure I think. So while I might write more, I think this is it for now, except for to post the following from Ezekiel, which we translated earlier this semester in Hebrew Syntax and Exegesis:

Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations. It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord God; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel.

Ezekiel 36:22-32 (ESV)

– redbeard