The Friday Briefing 7 (20 April 2018)

Why we must understand the covenants to understand the Bible Thomas R. Schreiner writes, “If we don’t understand the covenants, we will not and cannot understand the Bible because we won’t understand how the story fits together. The best way to see this is by quickly surveying the covenants in the Scriptures.

Why churches and church leaders need curiosity Barnabas Piper writes, “In order to represent God to the world we must know Him, and to do that we must learn. We must search for truth about His nature, His character, and His work. We must explore both His Word and His world. We absolutely must be curious if we are Christians. Without it we cease to grow and we become incapable of fulfilling our purpose in life.”

Why do some pastors deliberately avoid teaching doctrine? Jim Eliff writes, ”. . . I’ve watched an unintentional doctrinal imprecision on the part of many pastors become intentional. . . . . Simply stated it is the “wisdom” of attempting to circle in more people for our churches by unashamedly minimizing, or perhaps nearly eradicating, the restricting influences of doctrine.

The Weight of Glory: C. S. Lewis’s remarkable (and surprising) sermon On 8th June, 1941, in the University Church of St Mary the Virgin in Oxford, C.S. Lewis delivered one of the most famous sermons of the twentieth century. Justin Taylor writes, “Do we know that Lewis takes some surprising turns in this address, . . . . But if you could use some motivation or guidance, or simply want a substantial overview of the whole thing, I’ve tried my best to summarize the whole thing, tracing the various places Lewis takes us in this profoundly and edifying meditation.”

Book review: A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, and Mission around the Table by Tim Chester Right through the Bible we find God Himself inviting people to feast at His table. It’s no coincidence that there’s a meal at the very beginning and the very end of the Bible. In this book, Tim Chester picks up this theme of the meal and takes us through Luke’s Gospel. He opens up the meaning of the meal for Jesus and for us, and places this theme in the context of the whole Bible story. And, as Arthur Sido comments: “Tim is calling the church back to a place where deliberate, intentional sharing of our food, our home and our time takes priority in the life of the church . . . .”

He’s still risen What would it be like today if the followers of Jesus suddenly heard – for the very first time – that He had risen from the dead? This video imagines the scene.

Why we must understand the covenants to understand the Bible..

Thomas R. Schreiner writes, “The Bible isn’t a random collection of laws, moral principles, and stories. It is a story that goes somewhere; it is the story of redemption, the story of God’s kingdom. And the story unfolds and advances through the covenants God made with his people. If we don’t understand the covenants, we will not and cannot understand the Bible because we won’t understand how the story fits together. The best way to see this is by quickly surveying the covenants in the Scriptures.” Dr Schreiner then briefly overviews these covenants: the covenant of creation, the covenants with Noah, Abraham, Israel, and David, and the New Covenant. Read the whole article HERE. Dr Schreiner also overviews these Bible covenants in his book Covenant and God’s Purpose for the World: read the publisher’s description HERE.

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Why churches and church leaders need curiosity.

Barnabas Piper writes, “Humans are unique. God did not make anything else in His image. . . . . Author Joe Rigney explains the most significant implication this way: “Being made in God’s image is a vocation, something that we are called by God to do and to be.” A vocation, a calling, a work we are to dedicate out lives to. That means it is on purpose and with a purpose, not just a state of being. . . . . We must reflect God intentionally each day.”

“What this means for the Church, and for churches, is profound. We are a community of image-bearers, each uniquely gifted and tasked to reflect something particular of God. . . . . . . our reflection of God is not passive. . . . . We reflect on purpose, with intention, by taking action. One of those actions is discovery – about God Himself. In order to represent God to the world we must know Him, and to do that we must learn. We must search for truth about His nature, His character, and His work. We must explore both His Word and His world. We absolutely must be curious if we are Christians. Without it we cease to grow and we become incapable of fulfilling our purpose in life. . . . . We need someone to teach us and show us what it means to live in godly curiosity. That is the job of church leaders.”

Read the whole article HERE.

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Why do some pastors deliberately avoid teaching doctrine?

Jim Eliff writes, ”I have been involved in leading churches for four decades, with an emphasis on church planting in the last few years. I’ve also visited and addressed hundreds of churches around the world and have had the privilege of meeting thousands of Christian leaders. Through this time I’ve watched an unintentional doctrinal imprecision on the part of many pastors become intentional. . . . . Simply stated it is the ‘wisdom’ of attempting to circle in more people for our churches by unashamedly minimizing, or perhaps nearly eradicating, the restricting influences of doctrine. . . . . The problem is, it works.”

He comments, “In all of this acceptance of doctrinal sloppiness and miasma of beliefs, I find that many have totally disregarded a tenet that should be obvious to any Bible reader. I mean this: The apostles began churches with the intent to grow them as solidly as possible by means of a steady and meticulous interest in doctrine. The biblical data is overwhelmingly in line with this conclusion.”

He concludes: “We must be loving and comforting, praying and available, transparent and visionary, but as leaders we cannot dismiss what God insists on. . . . . Therefore give yourself to sound doctrine and make much of it from now on. If you cannot do this, resign. And if you are not a pastor, but a listener, go to those responsible for dispensing the truth with a sincere appeal for them to teach you doctrine without compromise. Tell them you cannot grow without it.”

Read the whole article HERE

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The Weight of Glory: C. S. Lewis’s remarkable (and surprising) sermon.

On 8th June, 1941, in the University Church of St Mary the Virgin in Oxford, C.S. Lewis delivered one of the most famous sermons of the twentieth century. Justin Taylor, of the Gospel Coalition, writes, “I suspect that this celebrated address is more ‘sampled’ than read straight through and understood in full. Many of us know the famous opening, where Lewis observes that we have settled for mud pies in the slum, ignorant of a holiday at the sea, and that we are far too easily pleased. Or we might know his section observing that we have never met a mere mortal. But what is the argument of the piece as a whole? Do we know that Lewis takes some surprising turns in this address, . . . . But if you could use some motivation or guidance, or simply want a substantial overview of the whole thing, I’ve tried my best to summarize the whole thing, tracing the various places Lewis takes us in this profoundly and edifying meditation.”

Here are two well-known passages in Lewis’s sermon – (passages that have been quoted, in full or in part, innumerable times):

“. . . if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

“It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. . . . . It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.”

Read Justin Taylor’s whole article HERE. Justin also gives a historical overview of that sermon and tells us about this sermon’s subsequent influence HERE. Read the original sermon HERE.

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Tim Chester, A Meal with Jesus, meals, covenants, eating, church, fellowship

A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, and Mission around the Table by Tim Chester.

Right through the Bible we find God Himself inviting people to feast at His table. He invites them to enjoy fellowship with Him, to enter His ‘family circle’. It’s no coincidence that there’s a meal at the very beginning and the very end of the Bible. God offered Adam and Eve the fruit of the Tree of Life (Genesis 2.9,16-17). But they ate from another tree; they refused fellowship with God. From that moment, God wanted to bring mankind back to His table – back into fellowship with Him.

So we find God inviting people to His table. In the Old Testament, there’s the annual Passover meal. When God made a covenant with Israel through Moses, chosen representatives of Israel banqueted with God on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24.9-11). And among the various sacrifices there was the fellowship offering – the sacrifice that the offerer and his companions ate together in God’s presence. Before His crucifixion, Jesus shared a meal with His disciples – the Last Supper. We celebrate the Lord’s Supper with our brothers and sisters at the central act of our life together as God’s people.

And when God’s Kingdom arrives in its final glory, God’s people will enjoy “the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19.9). They will feast with Jesus for eternity – they’ll enjoy eternal fellowship with Him in the new heaven and Earth.

In this book (which I reviewed earlier HERE) Tim Chester picks up this theme of the meal and takes us through Luke’s Gospel. He opens up the meaning of the meal for Jesus and for us, and places this theme in the context of the whole Bible story. And, as one reviewer on Amazon.com, Arthur Sido, comments: “Tim is calling the church back to a place where deliberate, intentional sharing of our food, our home and our time takes priority in the life of the church . . . .”

This book is published by IVP and Crossway. Read IVP’s description HERE and Crossway’s HERE. Read the introduction HERE. Tim Challies reviews it HERE.

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What would it be like today if the followers of Jesus suddenly heard – for the very first time – that He had risen from the dead? This brief video imagines the scene.

See the publisher’s page HERE.

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations (apart from those in direct quotations) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers. © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The Friday Briefing 6 (13 April 2018)

“On the Third Day”: what Jesus and the apostles saw when they read the Old Testament “. . . Jesus Himself pointed to the experience of the prophet Jonah as a sign that he would die and rise in three days (Matthew 12:40). . . . this prompts the question: Are there other “third day” references in the Old Testament that signified Jesus’s greater resurrection? The answer is a resounding ‘Yes’.”

The Genesis of theology The book of Genesis has been called ‘the seed plot of the Bible’. Here are four theological themes that ‘germinate’ in the first two chapters of Genesis.

The hottest thing at church today “is the preaching. Not only is it the preaching, but a very specific form of it—preaching based on the Bible. And just like that, decades of church growth bunkum is thrown under the bus.”

Pastors’ forum: evangelism and discipleship in the local church Nine pastors were asked about practical ways in which they encourage evangelism and discipleship in the life of their particular local church. Here are their responses.

10 most significant discoveries in the field of Biblical archaeology “. . . archaeological findings . . . have the potential to enrich our understanding and draw us into the world of the biblical writers—giving us a glimpse of the ancient world behind the living Word.”

“On the Third Day”: what Jesus and the apostles saw when they read the Old Testament

”Christ . . . was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,” (1 Corinthians 15.3–4). Bruce Forsee writes, “Jesus knew that he had come to die, and he taught his disciples not only that he would die and rise again, but specifically that he would rise on the third day. “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised“ (Matthew 16:21).

The apostle Paul indicates that the third-day resurrection was even indicated in the Old Testament. In 1 Corinthians 15:4 he claims Jesus “was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” . . . Jesus Himself pointed to the experience of the prophet Jonah as a sign that he would die and rise in three days (Matthew 12:40). If Jonah’s “resurrection” on the third day pointed to Christ’s resurrection, this prompts the question: Are there other “third day” references in the Old Testament that signified Jesus’s greater resurrection? The answer is a resounding ‘Yes’.” Read the whole article HERE

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The Genesis of theology

Nick Batzig introduces four key theological themes that we find in the very first two chapters of the Bible – a theology of creation and new creation, of time and space, of separation, and of sanctification. Read the whole article HERE.

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The hottest thing at church today

Tim Challies writes, “According to a new study by Gallup, the hottest thing at church today is not the worship and not the pastor. It’s not the smoke and lights and it’s not the hip and relevant youth programs. It’s not even the organic, fair trade coffee at the cafe. The hottest thing at church today is the preaching. Not only is it the preaching, but a very specific form of it—preaching based on the Bible. And just like that, decades of church growth bunkum is thrown under the bus.” Read the whole article HERE.

Read the report of the Gallup poll HERE.

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Pastors’ forum: evangelism and discipleship in the local church

Nine pastors were asked about practical ways in which they encourage evangelism and discipleship in the life of their particular local church. These pastors’ answers are worth reading. This is ‘where the rubber hits the road’ for us and our local church for fulfilling Jesus’s ‘great commission’ of Matthew 28.18-20.

Read the whole article HERE

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Image from Wikimedia. Image from the website of The Israel Museum, Jerusalem; original photograph by Ardon Bar Hama.

Photographic reproduction of the Great Isaiah Scroll, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The central column contains the text of Isaiah 53.13 to part of 54.4. This portion contains the wonderful prophecy of our Lord Jesus Christ’s sufferings for us on the Cross. This scroll is dated from around 125 BC, and was therefore written before Christ fulfilled this prophecy. The Dead Sea Scrolls are one of the 10 most significant discoveries in the field of Biblical archaeology that are described in the following article.

10 most significant discoveries in the field of Biblical archaeology

Tim Challies writes: “Biblical archaeology is a wide field offering modern readers fascinating insights into the everyday lives of people mentioned in the Bible. . . . . Here are the ten most significant discoveries in the field of biblical archaeology.” Read the whole article HERE.

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations (apart from those in direct quotations) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers. © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The Friday Briefing 5 (6 April 2018)

Helping our children ask, ‘What’s the worldview? ”. . . we parents need to be hugely intentional about equipping our children to know what they believe and why they believe what they believe.”

How ‘belonging before believing’ redefines the church “If we want to commend the gospel to non-Christians, what could be more effective than inviting them inside, letting them try it on before they commit to buying it? . . . . The idea is that, before they know it, not only will they feel like they belong, they will also believe what they belong to, because belonging has made belief plausible. This is an attractive idea. This is a seemingly effective idea. But it is also a bad idea. Here are three reasons why.”

Holy Trinity Brompton and the new form of British evangelicalism ”Among the most significant signs of a church more adapted to the marketplace will be a careful chamfering of the hard edges of the faith, a studied inoffensiveness, and a desire to avoid positions that might polarize its core market. For a consumer-driven church doctrinal vagueness is a feature, not a bug. . . . .”

How the early Church instructed new believers – and how we do it now. “There was such a rigorous plan and commitment by church leaders in the first four centuries to ground new believers in their Christian lives. The impact of this reading on my thinking led to some significant changes in our new Christians’ ministry, . . . .”

The Writings of C.S. Lewis Like You’ve Never Seen Them Before Watching these videos is rather like attending a talk given by C.S. Lewis in person.

Helping our children ask, ‘What’s the worldview?’

Andrew Carter, lecturer in theology, Bible and worldviews at The African Bible University, Kampala, Uganda, writes, “In August 2016 I was speaking at a Christian conference in Devon, UK. I’d been given the task of saying something about the role of apologetics in the believer’s life. In my talk I touched on the need for Christian parents to train their children in cultural analysis and worldview thinking. To help my audience with this, I listed about ten worldview questions that I teach my students here in Uganda, suggesting that they could use them to teach their children to think better and ask important questions about the world. . . . .”

“The morning after I’d spoken, I met a lady on the campsite who told me that she’d gone back to her tent and put each of my ten questions to her sixteen year old son. To her great dismay – she explained – he’d answered each one of them differently to her. As we chatted it became apparent that her answers were Christian and her son’s secular, or at least he worked with the assumption that God was virtually irrelevant to his life. She said something like this to me, “How can it be that raising my son in a Christian home has had virtually no impact on his worldview, whilst his schooling, peer group and cultural exposure has been so effective in shaping his world and life view?”

Andrew comments, “Perhaps the greatest failure of the church in the West has been the tendency to neglect to train the minds of God’s people; too many have acquired a kind of divided-life spirituality which assumes that the gospel only addresses a ‘spiritual’ realm of life: prayer, church activities, evangelism etc. Thinking is somehow seen as unspiritual and too intellectual. . . . . With our children, it just won’t do to tell them to accept Jesus into their hearts. Of course our children need to receive Christ as their Saviour, but we also need to show them why it makes sense to do so. In other words we need to give our children solid reasons why the Christian faith is true (nothing else explains reality as we find it) and contrast it with the inability of other worldviews to make sense of the world. . . . . . . . we parents need to be hugely intentional about equipping our children to know what they believe and why they believe what they believe.” Andrew gives some practical advice on how to begin.

Read the whole article HERE

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How ‘belonging before believing’ redefines the church

Michael Lawrence writes, ”One of the great insights of the modern world is that John Donne was right and Simon & Garfunkel was wrong: I am not a rock; I am not an island. From who I think I am to what I believe about life and the universe, my beliefs are socially constructed. That doesn’t mean I don’t make independent decisions. It simply means that the social context in which I live largely determines the range of options I can choose from. . . . .”

”What happens when you apply these basic insights to the local church and its task of evangelism? All of a sudden, you realize that the local church is more than a preaching station or venue for evangelistic programs. . . . . . . . the entire community becomes a crucial element in the task of commending the gospel. That community becomes the plausible alternative to unbelief. It becomes a sub-culture that demonstrates what it looks like to love and follow Jesus and so love and serve one another. And it does all this as the church body lives out its life together. . . . .”

“In the last few decades, however, many churches have taken this insight a step further. . . . . If we want to commend the gospel to non-Christians, what could be more effective than inviting them inside, letting them try it on before they commit to buying it? . . . . The result? ‘Unbelievers’ become ‘seekers’, rather than non-Christians. They become fellow travelers on the journey with us, just at a different point. Practically, this means letting unbelievers join everything from the worship band to the after-school tutoring ministry, from ushering to coordinating rides for seniors. Everyone is included; everyone belongs, regardless of belief. The idea is that, before they know it, not only will they feel like they belong, they will also believe what they belong to, because belonging has made belief plausible. This is an attractive idea. This is a seemingly effective idea. But it is also a bad idea. Here are three reasons why.” Read the whole article HERE

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Holy Trinity Brompton and the new form of British evangelicalism

Alastair Roberts comments (writing in 2014) “Andrew Wilson has a fascinating post on his blog on the subject of the ‘new centre of British evangelicalism.’ Within it he argues that, while there are parts of British evangelicalism that are not within the ambit of its direct influence, Holy Trinity Brompton has become by far the most significant player within the UK evangelical world. Andrew defines the ‘centre’ that HTB represents as ‘the reasonably large, obvious bit in the middle, as far away from all extremes as you can get, from which it is possible to influence most of the game, . . . .’”

”. . . . Andrew’s discussion of the character, reach, and effect of HTB’s influence is perceptive and stimulating. He makes a number of interesting observations along the way. One of the most important of these is that ‘contemporary evangelicalism is increasingly becoming aligned by shared conferences, courses and choruses, rather than confessions, creeds or catechisms.’ . . . . In perhaps the most important paragraph in the post, Andrew observes the manner in which HTB’s centrality ‘reflects decreasing levels of doctrinal clarity in British evangelicalism as a whole.’ . . . . ‘How many people who run Alpha or the Marriage Course, I wonder, know what view (if any) HTB have of penal substitution, or hell, or predestination, or gay marriage, or any number of other contentious issues in the contemporary church? (Egalitarianism . . . is probably the exception that proves the rule). Most evangelicals will wonder why it matters: if someone has a good course, or runs a good conference, what difference does it make what they think about penal substitution, hell, gender roles or gay marriage? This, of course, is exactly the point I’m making—that the centrality of HTB reflects the lack of doctrinal clarity in evangelicalism . . . .’”

Alastair comments, “Andrew’s assessment of HTB, while containing a note of caution, is largely favourable. I would be much less sanguine about the scale of HTB’s influence than Andrew seems to be, on account of many of the characteristics that he describes. My concerns are far too broad to be laid wholly at HTB’s door, although HTB does exemplify a number of the developments and trends that evoke some of my deepest reservations about much contemporary evangelicalism. HTB often strikes me as an example of a highly successful ecclesial adaptation to contemporary capitalism. Implicit within its approach are new models of the Church, the world, and the Christian. The Christian is now the religious consumer, to whom the Church must cater. The Alpha Course (whose approach has been imitated by many others) is a polished and franchised showcasing of Christian faith in a manner that minimizes the creative involvement of the local church. It provides a technique of evangelism and discipleship along with a vision of Christianity in which the distinct voice and authority of the local church are downplayed in favour of a predictable, uniform, and airbrushed product. . . . . Among the most significant signs of a church more adapted to the marketplace will be a careful chamfering of the hard edges of the faith, a studied inoffensiveness, and a desire to avoid positions that might polarize its core market. For a consumer-driven church doctrinal vagueness is a feature, not a bug. . . . .”

Read the whole article HERE

Read Andrew Wilson’s article HERE

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How the early Church instructed new believers – and how we do it now.

I published a page with a link to this article, titled Early Church catechesis and new Christians’ classes in contemporary evangelicalism back in late 2013. It remains as relevant now. In this article, Clinton Arnold looks at how the early church trained new believers – and then poses some searching questions about how our present-day evangelical church approaches this task. He writes: “For twelve years my wife and I were deeply involved in a ministry to new believers at our local church. When we began developing this ‘assimilation’ ministry, we started with an eight-week course that covered many of the basics of the Christian life. . . . . The initial idea was for new believers to take the eight-week course as a primer in some of the basics of Christian doctrine and practice and then help them blend into the regular age-graded Sunday School program of the church.”

Dr. Arnold had also been doing some reading in the Church fathers about how new Christians were trained in the early church. He came away “deeply convicted about the superficiality of what we were doing. There was such a rigorous plan and commitment by church leaders in the first four centuries to ground new believers in their Christian lives. The impact of this reading on my thinking led to some significant changes in our new Christians’ ministry, especially the development of a ministry plan and curriculum that would keep them for two to three years.”

In this paper, Dr. Arnold gathers some insights from the Apostolic Tradition, the earliest source providing us with detailed information about how the church trained new believers, together with some other ancient sources that speak about this practice. He offers some thoughts on how the present-day church can learn from their forebears in the early church.

Read the whole article HERE

Read my original summary of the article HERE

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The Writings of C.S. Lewis Like You’ve Never Seen Them Before

There’s a YouTube account CSLewisDoodle that brings the writings of C.S. Lewis to us in a novel form – using animated graphics, or ‘doodles’, to accompany an audio version of his writings. Justin Taylor of The Gospel Coalition writes, “The Doodler (we’ll call him) essentially takes Lewis’s writings, adds audio, and then creates a sort of running visual commentary on them. Some people would dismiss such doodling (or even graphic novels) as too low of an art form, but to do something at this pace requires a very deep understanding of the subject matter. And the research behind the doodling is significant. Note his comment on his doodles for The Abolition of Man: ‘In order to help you understand the meaning of the quotes, I have hunted down all of Lewis’ quotations and allusions including the notorious ‘Green Book’ itself. I have collated the original quotes, in their original context, and provided them as endnotes to a PDF document as a study aid.”

Watching these videos is rather like attending a talk given by C.S. Lewis in person. The ‘doodling’ that takes place on the video as you listen holds your attention and reinforces the message in a remarkable way. Here is one of them. It’s an illustration of C.S Lewis’ third talk of the third radio series called ‘What Christians Believe’. This talk became Chapter 2 of Book 2, in the book called ‘Mere Christianity’. (The Morse code at the very end can be translated by clicking the Subtitles/closed captions button on the video.)

Read Justin Taylor’s article HERE

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The Bible story captured in stained glass

Peninsula Bible Church, Cupertino, in California, USA, installed the stained glass window, shown below, in 2007. It is 23 feet high, and dominates the auditorium of the church. This window is not only a breathtaking piece of art. It’s also a wonderful teaching tool, telling the Bible story in a series of images through the window. At the centre, and dominating the window, is a cross. Another striking element is the rainbow that flows around the top of the cross, from the first vertical panel on the left, right through and into the final vertical panel on the right. The window was designed by Bernard Bell, a pastor of that church, who called it The Big Picture. He hopes that the window will form and shape an understanding of the great story told in the Bible in both adults and children.

Shortly after its installation, Bernard Bell preached a sermon explaining the window. He said, “Our service today is shaped around our new window. You’ve had a couple of weeks to look at this window, to figure out what is in it. It has been fun to watch you reading the window, especially to see you reading it with your kids. This window is indeed designed to be read, just like the stained glass windows of the old cathedrals in Europe. The Bible is a story, the great story of God’s involvement with the world and of human response to him. This window tells that story pictorially; it is to be read as a story. The window is structurally designed in four vertical bays, but thematically designed as five acts with a prelude. The prelude is God himself. The five acts are the five major stages in his dealings with the world: creation, Israel, Christ, church, and consummation.” Click HERE to read the rest of this sermon; it’s also available as a PDF HERE.

Bernard preached two other sermons relating to this window. A sermon entitled A Window on Advent is available in audio and written formats (including a PDF version) HERE. A sermon entitled Stories and the Story is available in audio and written formats (including a PDF version) HERE.

The window was featured in the local newspaper, the Cupertino Courier. Read the journal’s article HERE.

The Friday Briefing 4 (30 March 2018)

Crucifixion by the Romans from Wikimedia

The painting above is Crucifixion by the Romans by the Russian artist Vasily Vereshchagin (1842-1904). This magnificent painting is epic in scale – around 3 metres high and 4 metres wide! In their press release ahead of this painting’s sale (available HERE), the auction house Christie’s tells us, “The composition is undoubtedly striking: in direct contrast to traditional depictions of the Crucifixion, Vereshchagin positions Christ, illuminated, on the extreme right of the painting, placing the primary emphasis of the composition on the crowd. The viewer becomes part of the crowd, peering over people and horses to view the spectacle. A large expanse of dark sky stretches across the horizontal, the city wall looms heavy over a crowd of traders, Pharisees and a mournful group of Christ’s supporters. In the foreground, Roman soldiers with their spears and lances stand guard.”

What did the Cross achieve?

The dying of Jesus Christ

Thief or terrorist: what kind of criminal was crucified with Jesus?

The Day of Atonement

The Crossing Point of History – a video

What did the Cross achieve?

Here is J.I. Packer’s brilliant, carefully argued, penetrating defence of penal substitution – the doctrine that teaches that, on the Cross, Jesus suffered the penalty for our sin instead of us, as our Substitute. This is one of the foundational doctrines of our Christian faith. Delivered as a lecture at Tyndale House, Cambridge, in 1973, this article is now a classic. It is not, admittedly, the easiest of reads, but it is a foundational study that deserves close study. In it, Dr. Packer writes, “The notion which the phrase ‘penal substitution’ expresses is that Jesus Christ our Lord, moved by a love that was determined to do everything necessary to save us, endured and exhausted the destructive divine judgment for which we were otherwise inescapably destined, and so won us forgiveness, adoption and glory.”

Paul wrote “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’”. In one of the footnotes in this article, Packer quotes from Luther’s comment on this verse, “Luther puts this dramatically and exuberantly, as was always his way. ‘All the prophets did foresee in spirit, that Christ should become the greatest transgressor, murderer, adulterer, thief, rebel, blasphemer, etc., that ever was . . . for he being made a sacrifice, for the sins of the whole world, is not now an innocent person and without sins . . . our most merciful Father . . . sent his only Son into the world and laid upon him the sins of all men, saying: Be thou Peter that denier; Paul that persecutor, blasphemer and cruel oppressor; David that adulterer; that sinner which did eat the apple in Paradise; that thief which hanged upon the cross; and, briefly, be thou the person which hath committed the sins of all men; see therefore that thou pay and satisfy for them. Here now cometh the law and saith: I find him a sinner . . . therefore let him die upon the cross . . .’”

Thirty years later, Dr. Packer wrote a briefer article, Penal substitution revisited, available HERE. In it, he commented: “Throughout my 63 years as an evangelical believer, the penal substitutionary understanding of the cross of Christ has been a flashpoint of controversy and division among Protestants. It was so before my time, . . . . It remains so, as liberalism keeps reinventing itself and luring evangelicals away from their heritage. Since one’s belief about the atonement is bound up with one’s belief about the character of God, the terms of the gospel and the Christian’s inner life, the intensity of the debate is understandable. If one view is right, others are more or less wrong, and the definition of Christianity itself comes to be at stake.” He concluded, “A lawyer, having completed his argument may declare that here he rests his case. I, having surveyed the penal substitutionary sacrifice of Christ afresh, now reaffirm that here I rest my hope. So, I believe, will all truly faithful believers.”

Read What did the Cross Achieve? HERE

James Innell Packer (born 22 July 1926), usually cited as J. I. Packer, is a British-born Canadian Anglican theologian. He is Board of Governors’ Professor of Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, Canada. He is regarded as one of the most important evangelical theologians of the 20th Century.

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The dying of Jesus Christ

Arthur C. Custance brings a fresh look at the death of Jesus Christ in this fascinating study. He writes, “Man dies two deaths. The Saviour of man must therefore also suffer two deaths, first by dying spiritually as man dies spiritually, and then by dying physiologically as man dies physiologically. For such a Saviour both deaths are substitutionary, unique as to their nature and cause, and unique as to their effect.”

As to the first – spiritual – death, Dr. Custance explains: “When man sins, he does so by choice and he thus commits spiritual suicide. . . . . Thereafter he is, spiritually considered, a dead man: dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1) . . . . . . . . From the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ he has effectively cut himself off, separated himself — as Isaiah 59:2 puts it . . . . Paul describes this spiritual death as “eternal destruction from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thessalonians 1:9, Revised Standard Version). But it may be asked, When did this kind of dying ever happen in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ? The answer is, On the cross in those three hours of darkness — as indicated when He cried out in his extreme isolation and agony of soul, “My God, My God! Why have You forsaken Me?” For in becoming an offering for our sins, He had suddenly experienced for the first time in the eternity of his being “destruction from the presence of the Lord,” a destruction which for all He knew was final. It happened not by his choice (as it is with us) but by imposition when He was made sin, when He became guilty by imputation of all the horror and frightfulness of man’s wickedness since history began with the murder of Abel. When this judgment fell upon Him, it was as though the murder, the torture, the rape, the mutilation, the degradation, and the utter cruelty of man towards man, became in effect his responsibility. . . . . We cannot really have the slightest conception of what this experience meant to One who was completely without sin.”

As to the second – physiological – death, Dr. Custance explains: “It was not, therefore, the crucifixion that really ended his life. He died ON the cross, but not FROM crucifixion. The cross was the occasion but not the cause of his dying. He was dead within less than six hours, a circumstance almost unheard of. . . . . It is therefore no wonder that the centurion in charge of the crucifixion detail was so amazed (Mark 15:39), and that Pilate also was incredulous (Mark 15:44) that He was so soon dead. Both were Romans: both probably had had considerable experience in such matters. To them it was a most exceptional circumstance. . . . . Thus in his exercise of absolute authority over his own life He did not give up his spirit in the sense that other men give up theirs. He deliberately dismissed it, and the transformation of his body from a living organism into a dead body was so immediate that the centurion was amazed.”

Read the whole article HERE

Arthur Custance’s writings can be accessed at no cost HERE. They are a wonderful storehouse of thoughtful and reverent explorations of Biblical truth, with a special focus on the interface of science and the Bible. Here is an outline of his life (as given on the Arthur C. Custance website, and available HERE): “Arthur C. Custance was born and educated in England and moved to Canada in 1928. In his second year at the University of Toronto he was converted to faith in Christ. The experience so changed his thinking that he switched courses, obtaining an honours M.A. in Hebrew and Greek. In his 13 years of formal education, he explored many facets of knowledge and was particularly interested in anthropology and origins. He completed his Ph.D. at the University of Ottawa in 1959 while serving as head of the Human Engineering Laboratories of the Defence Research Board in Ottawa (Canada) and was engaged in research work for 15 years. During that time he also wrote and published The Doorway Papers, and in retirement in 1970, he wrote 6 major books. His writings are characterized by a rare combination of scholarly thoroughness and biblical orthodoxy.”

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Thief or terrorist: what kind of criminal was crucified with Jesus?

Tom Hobson writes, “’Thief’ is too mild a word in the verse where we are told that Jesus was “crucified between two thieves” (Matthew 27:38). The same is true in John 18:40, where we are told, “Now Barabbas was a robber”. The language is too mild. Not even “bandit” has enough kick to translate the word lēstēs. Barabbas and his buddies who were crucified with Jesus would be better described as revolutionaries, guerillas, pirates (the landlubber variety), or (to use a modern term) ‘terrorists’.

Dr Hobson concludes: ”How degrading, for Jesus to suffer Rome’s most hideous punishment with such dangerous, violent men! Here we have a vivid picture of the depths to which Jesus humbled himself (Philippians 2:8), from whence God highly exalted him, and gave him the name at which every knee shall bow. Let us ponder the humiliation Jesus suffered by being crucified between two terrorists, as we commemorate Good Friday and celebrate Resurrection Sunday.”

Read the whole article HERE

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The Day of Atonement

The day of Atonement (described in Leviticus 16.1-34 and Numbers 29.7-11) lay at the heart of the whole Old Testament sacrificial system. On this day a final great purification offering was offered for all of Israel’s sins over the preceding year. This sacrifice consisted of a pair of goats, which, together, constituted a single purification offering. That sacrifice – and the whole Old Testament sacrificial system was fulfilled Jesus’s sacrificial death on the Cross – an event we remember this Good Friday.

In this article, Michael Morales brings a fresh and illuminating perspective on the Day of Atonement and its fulfilment by our great High Priest, Jesus Christ. He writes, “As part of the profound theology of atonement in the Old Testament, sin was understood as both deeply-seated within the heart and exceedingly defiling. Because the earth had been polluted by humanity’s sin and consequent death, the LORD God who is the fountain of life could not dwell with his people—yet this was the very purpose for which he had created the heavens and earth. The Tabernacle (and later Temple) was, therefore, a provisional ‘creation in miniature’, an architectural cosmos that would allow the holy Creator to dwell in a sacred, clean ‘house’ among his people. Again, the Tabernacle was a temporary solution during the interim before the establishment of a new (that is, newly cleansed and renovated) heavens and earth. But even during the interim, God taught and warned his people that his earthly abode, the Tabernacle, could not remain in the midst of his people when defiled by the uncleanness of their sins. Although faithful Israelites would offer sin offerings throughout the year, their own consciences surely testified to the inadequacy of their repentance, let alone remembrance, of sin. If one were to offer sin offerings (typically a young goat) for every sin committed in a single day, one would never leave the Tabernacle precincts and would become exceedingly poor in the process since livestock were a precious commodity. Many sins, then, had not been dealt with through the cleansing blood of atonement. Worse still, Israel’s sins spread their uncleanness so that the Tabernacle would steadily become defiled; without a remedy, God would need to remove his holy presence from among his people. Such a need for comprehensive forgiveness and cleansing from sin was addressed by the Day of Atonement ceremony, allowing for a fresh start annually—a new year, as it were.”

“The analogy between creation and the Tabernacle proves prophetic. If the high priest, through the blood of atonement, could cleanse God’s architectural cosmos (i.e., the Tabernacle) from sin’s defilement, then could such cleansing also be possible for creation itself? The book of Hebrews teaches precisely this point. Jesus was not a Levitical high priest, linked to the Tabernacle as a miniature copy of the cosmos. Rather, the Son of God is a high priest after the order of Melchizedek, and has accomplished creation’s Day of Atonement, cleansing God’s people and the cosmos definitively from sin’s defilement. With his own blood, Jesus entered heaven itself, the reality which the Tent’s holy of holies only copied. All of God’s people, from every era and nation, will dwell with him in glory in a new heavens and earth because of the Messiah’s work of atonement. A foretaste of that glorious life may be experienced every Lord’s Day as the church below enters through the new and living way—the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ—into the joys of the heavenly Mount Zion (Hebrews 12.22-24).”

Read the whole article HERE

Michael Morales is Professor of Old Testament at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Greenville, South Carolina. He is the author of Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord?: A Biblical Theology of the Book of Leviticus (see the publisher’s description for this book HERE). This is a suberb study of the book of Leviticus, and its place in the whole Bible story. I will post about it in due course.

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The Crossing Point of History – a video

In this video, the eleventh in the series The Journey (available HERE) we look at Jesus’s trials and crucifixion, and His resurrection and ascension into Heaven. These events are the great turning point in the history of this world, and the key to God’s plan for us and for our world. A Leader’s Guide, to aid in group discussion after viewing the video, is available HERE. A more detailed 20-page study is available for download HERE.

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations (apart from those in direct quotations) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers. © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The Friday Briefing 3 (23 March 2018)

Welcome to the third issue of The Friday Briefing. (If you missed the first and second, they’re available HERE and HERE.) The aim of this weekly briefing is to introduce a wide range of books, articles, and audio and video resources helpful for studying the Bible, for Biblical thinking and understanding, and for Christian discipleship. It will also include quotations that I’ve found thought-provoking and significant. There’ll also be alerts to material uploaded on this site.

The greatest drama ever staged

The gift of pain (Genesis 3.16-19)

We have lost the sense of God

I’m a modern woman who loves my church’s all-male pastor’s rule

Book review: Easter Enigma by John Wenham

The real reason you love music

The greatest drama ever staged

Here is a bracing argument for the importance and dramatic impact of Christian theology from the pen of Dorothy Sayers (1893-1957), an English crime writer, poet, playwright, essayist, and translator. Written over 50 years ago, it’s relevance remains. She writes: “Official Christianity, of late years, has been having what is known as ‘a bad press’. We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine – ‘dull dogma’, as people call it. The fact is the precise opposite. It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man – and the dogma is the drama.”

”That drama is summarized quite dearly in the creeds of the Church, and if we think it dull it is because we either have never really read those amazing documents, or have recited them so often and so mechanically as to have lost all sense of their meaning. The plot pivots upon a single character, and the whole action is the answer to a single central problem: What think ye of Christ?

Read the whole article HERE

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The gift of pain (Genesis 3.16-19)

Bernard Bell, a pastor at Peninsula Bible Church, Cupertino, San Fransisco, writes: ”America should be the happiest country on earth. It is officially founded on the ‘self-evident’, God-given, ‘unalienable’ right to pursue happiness. Yet there is a lot of pain in this country: physical, emotional, psychological. Despite the highest per-capita spending on health-care we rank near the bottom in the West on any measure of health. Despite massive consumption of painkillers the pain persists. Despite numerous counselors the anguish endures.”

”Many who have visited Third World countries on mission trips have been struck by how happy people seem, even though they live in relative poverty, with poor access to health care and no painkillers. Many of us know people who have remained remarkably joyful in the midst of great pain: they don’t deny the pain, but the pain doesn’t paralyze their lives. In short, there does not seem to be a direct correlation between pain, suffering and happiness.”

”We wish the pain would go away, but pain is valuable. . . . . Today I want to rehabilitate pain, not by removing it, but by showing its positive effects.” Bernard concludes, “The antidote to pain is not Tylenol. It’s not relationships, or marriage, or family, or work. It’s certainly not death. The antidote to pain is God. Our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. God uses pain as a tool to keep us from ourselves, to keep us from enjoying lesser things too much, to keep us from being too easily pleased.”

Read the whole message HERE

This message is part of series preached by Bernard Bell entitled Genesis 1-11: Our Story of Origins. The whole series is available HERE. This series can be downloaded in a single PDF file HERE and as a single EPub document HERE.

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We have lost the sense of God

Conrad Mbewe, pastor of Kabwata Baptist Church in Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia, writes: “After my last blog post in which I addressed the issue of believers abandoning going to church on a Sunday in preference for watching a football match, I tossed and turned most of the night. I kept asking myself how believers could do this. I could not understand how even pastors are now joining in this revelry with a clear conscience. I mean, how?

”I was sure that the football craze that had engulfed this generation is only a symptom of a greater disease. But what was that disease? That is the question I was wrestling with. By the time the sun rose, I think that I had an answer. The best way to phrase it is by the title of this blog post: We have lost the sense of God. I know that this sounds like an outlandish accusation but that is because we are comparing ourselves with ourselves. Hear me out.” Read the whole article HERE

You can learn a little more about Conrad Mbewe here HERE

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I’m a modern woman who loves my church’s all-male pastor’s rule

Katy Faust writes, “I know plenty of women who are incredible leaders and gifted speakers who can expound, exegete, and exhort as well as Keller or Piper, Pratt or Chan. But I don’t believe those gifted women should be lead pastors of the local church. . . . . While I believe the most biblical position prohibits women as elders and pastors, here I’ll try to outline a more pragmatic argument.” Read the whole article HERE

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Book review: Easter Enigma by John Wenham

This book brings vividly to life the events of the Resurrection that we will be celebrating this Easter. Easter Enigma weaves together the five accounts of Jesus’s Resurrection and His subsequent appearances, and gives us a compelling overview of what happened during those momentous 40 days. This book had an unforgettable impact on me when I first read it. It took me into the events of Jesus’s Resurrection and subsequent appearances in such a way that I felt that I could almost have been there in person when these momentous events took place.

Read the whole review HERE.

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The real reason you love music

Gavin Ortlund muses on why we love music. He writes, “As someone who studies theology, I’m interested in the philosophy of music. What does music mean? Is it merely pleasant—’auditory cheesecake’, as Steven Pinker puts it—or does it actually have a significance that corresponds to its effect on us?”

Gavin comments: “If a triune God created the world as a work of art—not out of necessity, but out of love and freedom—then music can be understood, along with everything beautiful in the world, as a faint reflection of the pre-temporal glory of God. It is a tiny echo of what was happening before time and space. What rhythm and harmony are trying to do, however imperfectly, is trace out something of that love and joy that has been forever pulsating between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

Read the whole article HERE. And – as a pointer to the joy that music can bring us – here’s a video of the U.S. Air Force Band treating visitors to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum to a flash mob performance of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring/Joy to the World.

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Book review – ‘Easter Enigma’ by John Wenham

Easter Enigma (second edition) by John Wenham

This book brings vividly to life the events of the Resurrection that we will be celebrating this Easter. Easter Enigma weaves together the five accounts of Jesus’s Resurrection and His subsequent appearances, and gives us a compelling overview of what happened during those momentous 40 days. The author describes Jerusalem and the areas around the city relevant to the Bible account, and gives us a little biography of Mary Magdalene together with a briefer description of the other people involved, including the five writers who record the events. He then, over the remaining seven chapters, recounts the events in detail from Good Friday right through to Jesus’s ascension. Dr Wenham writes, “the story of Jesus’ resurrection is told by five different writers, whose accounts differ from each other to an astonishing degree. So much so that distinguished scholars one after another have said categorically that the five accounts are irreconcilable. . . . . It is by no means easy to see how these things can be fitted together while remaining strictly faithful to what the writers say. But an insatiable curiosity made me want to know who did what and why each writer put things so. Reading all I could and studying the Greek text carefully, I gradually found many of the pieces of the jigsaw coming together. It now seems to me that these resurrection stories exhibit in a remarkable way the well-known characteristics of accurate and independent reporting, for superficially they show great disharmony, but on close examination the details gradually fall into place.”

This book had an unforgettable impact on me when I first read it. It took me into the events of Jesus’s Resurrection and subsequent appearances in such a way that I felt that I could almost have been there in person when these momentous events took place.

Here are endorsements from the publisher’s description page:

“Becomes the more convincing and exciting as it is read in full.” (Evangelical Times)

“Gripping, psychologically convincing . . . enthralling . . . .”” (Harvester)

“Virtually the whole New Testament establishment believe that there is no possibility of harmonizing the five accounts of the resurrection appearances. John Wenham takes them on with charm, common sense and erudition…such a reconstruction is entirely plausible.” (Michael Green)

View the publisher’s description page HERE.

John Wenham (1913–1996) was an Anglican Bible scholar. He had a distinguished academic career as vice principal of Tyndale Hall, Bristol, lecturer in New Testament Greek at Bristol University and warden of Latimer House, Oxford. As a biblical scholar living in Jerusalem, his curiosity led him to make a detailed examination of the people and the places mentioned in the Easter Story. Easter Enigma is the fruit of this detective work.