The Friday Briefing 11 (1 June 2018)

The Friday Briefing is now appearing monthly rather than weekly, on the first Friday of each month. This will allow more time for revision of some existing material on this site, and for further writing projects.

10 things you should know about being reconciled to God Sam Storms asks, “What does it mean when we appeal to non-believers to be reconciled to God?”

The New Testament, the ring of truth, and the difference with mythological legends J.B. Phillips (1906-1982) produced a translation of the New Testament, entitled New Testament in Modern English. In a memoir, Phillips wrote : “I found again and again that the material under my hands was strangely alive; it spoke to my condition in the most uncanny way. I say ‘uncanny’ for want of a better word, but it was a very strange experience to sense, not occasionally but almost continually, the living quality of those rather strangely assorted books.”

The local church as a counterculture Brett McCracken comments, “The local church was never meant to be a cultural, comfortable, bourgeois social club . . . . On the contrary, it was meant to be a counterculture, a set-apart community embodying a radically different vision for human flourishing. What would it mean for local churches to embrace their countercultural identity?”

How history’s revivals teach us to pray David R. Thomas writes, “From 1949 to 1952, . . . . . . . a spiritual awakening swept across the islands of Lewis and Harris, . . . . . . . I met 11 eyewitnesses—in their 80s now—who agreed to interviews in the sanctuary of the very church where the awakening began. . . . . They told of the attitude of brokenness and desperation that stirred Christians in that day, a spirit of necessity and audacity, a manner of prayer that could be daring and agonizing. . . . . A stream of this manner of praying flows from the early church all the way through the Reformation. . . . . But travailing prayer finally found a widespread voice at the dawn of the Great Awakenings in America, . . . .”

Rescuing Christian masculinity Alastair Roberts writes, “It is profoundly depressing to witness the tendency to respond to the Church’s failures to engage men with some puerile masculine rebranding exercise. . . . . Behind all of these things, it seems to me, there lies a deep crisis in contemporary masculinity, which in turn is a symptom of a crisis of contemporary society. Unfortunately, few people have put their finger upon this.”

10 things you should know about being reconciled to God.

Sam Storms writes, “We hear and say much about redemption justification and adoption and forgiveness of sins. But when was the last time you heard a sermon about the doctrine of reconciliation? What does it mean to say we are reconciled to God? What does it mean when we appeal to non-believers to be reconciled to God? In this post we’ll look at ten things we all should know about this glorious truth.”

Read the whole article HERE.

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The New Testament, the ring of truth, and the difference with mythological legends.

Justin Taylor writes, “J. B. Phillips (1906-1982) . . . was . . . a periphrastic Bible translator, working from the Greek text to put the New Testament into a breezy, British, mid-20th-century vernacular. . . . . In 1958 he published the entire New Testament in Modern English with revisions in 1961 and 1972. In 1967 he wrote a memoir describing the experience, entitled Ring of Truth: A Translator’s Testimony. In it he [wrote] “. . . for years I had viewed the Greek of the New Testament with a rather snobbish disdain. I had read the best of Classical Greek both at school and Cambridge for over ten years. . . . Although I did my utmost to preserve an emotional detachment, I found again and again that the material under my hands was strangely alive; it spoke to my condition in the most uncanny way. I say ‘uncanny’ for want of a better word, but it was a very strange experience to sense, not occasionally but almost continually, the living quality of those rather strangely assorted books. To me it is the more remarkable because I had no fundamentalist upbringing, and although as a priest of the Anglican Church I had a great respect for Holy Scripture, this very close contact of several years of translation produced an effect of ‘inspiration’ which I have never experienced, even in the remotest degree, in any other work.””

Read the whole article HERE.

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The local church as a counterculture.

Brett McCracken writes, “Friedrich Nietzsche was perhaps the most towering figure among 19th century philosophers and thinkers, those whom Richard Lints has called “secular prophets.” . . . Neitzsche leveled new critiques against religion and positioned Christianity as a sort of idolatry—a made-in-man’s-own-image mythology to cope with the challenges of existence. . . . . He called Christianity the “religion of pity”—or, worse, the “religion of comfortableness.” . . . . Certainly we must admit that in many times and places in history—like in his own 19th century European context—Christianity has been rather comfortable, uncourageous, and unwilling to truly embrace the costly call of Jesus Christ. And for many in the American church today, Christianity is indeed a religion of escape and comfort, a faith that doesn’t ask much and doesn’t cost anything. It’s a religion of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. So in that sense, perhaps Nietzsche’s critique is right. But Nietzsche is wrong to suggest there’s something inherently comfortable about Christianity, that it in its very essence Christianity is a convenient, disingenuous system of consolation for the weak people of the world. . . . .”

McCracken comments, “The local church was never meant to be a cultural, comfortable, bourgeois social club that affirms people in their idolatry and helps them along on a journey to their “best life now.” On the contrary, it was meant to be a counterculture, a set-apart community embodying a radically different vision for human flourishing. What would it mean for local churches to embrace their countercultural identity?”

Read the whole article HERE.

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How history’s revivals teach us to pray.

David R. Thomas writes, “From 1949 to 1952, the unthinkable unfolded on Scottish islands known as the Hebrides: revival! Seemingly out of nowhere, a spiritual awakening swept across the islands of Lewis and Harris, . . . . Some historians believe this was the last genuine awakening in the western world. When I came across a book detailing the Hebridian Revival, I wanted to know how a community was transformed from spiritual freefall to stunning renewal. So I booked a flight to Scotland, hoping to meet anyone who might remember what happened in those days. To my amazement, I met 11 eyewitnesses—in their 80s now—who agreed to interviews in the sanctuary of the very church where the awakening began. . . . . While they admitted strong preaching and other measures had played a role in the revival, to a person they described something more essential when God moved: a kind of spiritual posture among those at the core of the awakening. They told of the attitude of brokenness and desperation that stirred Christians in that day, a spirit of necessity and audacity, a manner of prayer that could be daring and agonizing. . . . .”

“A stream of this manner of praying flows from the early church all the way through the Reformation. . . . . But travailing prayer finally found a widespread voice at the dawn of the Great Awakenings in America, introduced primarily by Jonathan Edwards, colonial America’s greatest thinker. . . . . The First and Second Great Awakenings overflowed with stories of an agony in prayer, of petitioners becoming unrelenting in their heart cries. . . . . Most important to the leaders of awakenings was that none of this audacity and determination in prayer could be self-generated. An outpouring of the “spirit of prayer” was to them the key spiritual gift, the essential charism, of awakening: God himself, by his Spirit, providing the discernment and faith, the energy and language and very breath of awakening. . . . .”

Thomas comments, “I must admit that all this has occasionally left me feeling guilty about my own praying. Who of us, if we’re honest, doesn’t deep down feel like we could be praying more, that we should in one way or another be praying better? . . . . My encounter with travailing prayer moved me closer to what I believe God is looking for.”

Read the whole article HERE.

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Rescuing Christian masculinity.

Alastair Roberts writes, “It is profoundly depressing to witness the tendency to respond to the Church’s failures to engage men with some puerile masculine rebranding exercise. We are told that we need MAN hymns and MAN faith, just as we need MAN crisps, or MAN chocolate bars, . . . . Behind all of these things, it seems to me, there lies a deep crisis in contemporary masculinity, which in turn is a symptom of a crisis of contemporary society. Unfortunately, few people have put their finger upon this. . . . .”

“It is important to see, I believe, that the malaise of masculinity is a symptom of a deeper and more profound contemporary social and existential malaise, a malaise that affects everyone. It is one of the principal effects of a maternalistic society . . . . This society infantilizes us in many ways. . . . . In order to sustain this social order, masculinity must be domesticated and infantilized. . . . . Any masculine urge for world-engaging and world-changing action must be expended in the ersatz realities of sports, entertainment, games, and porn, thereby reduced to impotence. . . . .”

Dr Roberts concludes, “This spiritual malaise in the Church, just as in the wider cultural order, depends in large measure upon the emasculation and domestication of men. As I have argued in the past, a strong male—and masculine—pastorate can have the salutary effect of bringing to light spiritual realities that the modern order seeks to exclude from our vision.  . . . . In our concern to recover a lost masculinity, we easily forget that masculinity will only ever be recovered indirectly—as we recover the reality that masculinity was about. The recovery of Christian masculinity will only occur as we commit ourselves to the restoration of biblical Christianity and the recovery of the weight and stakes of its moral universe. It is only within this moral universe that a healthy Christian masculinity—far from the macho posturing of many contemporary parodies—will thrive.”

This is a penetrating commentary on this pressing issue.

Read the whole article HERE.

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The Friday Briefing 10 (11 May 2018)

The Friday Briefing will now appear monthly rather than weekly, on the first Friday of each month, starting Friday 1st June. This will allow more time for revision of some existing material on this site, and for adding further material to this site.

What we miss when we skip the prophets Ryan Higginbottom writes, “Aside from missing out on a fifth of God’s word, here are five specific treasures we miss when we consistently neglect the reading and study of the prophets. (These are not all features exclusive to the prophets, but they appear in most of the prophetic books.)”

The Gospel of John and the (re)creation of the cosmos Leo Smits writes, “. . . ‘creation’ is an important theme for the apostle of the Gospel of John. . . . . More and more I am convinced that the gospel of John is built up from the structure of the creation story of Genesis 1 and 2.”

This world is not my home Thomas Smith writes, “It sure feels like home. From the air we breathe to the reassuring pull of the earth’s gravity, from the delight we take in the perfect harmony between the colors of nature to the pleasure given by the sound of rain on leaves or the sight of snowflakes the size of goose feathers, we feel at home here. This is our home, our place. . . . . All of which leads us to investigate further just what the relationship of the Christian, as a human being and as a saint, is to this present creation.”

Reading together, early Church style New historical research by Brian J. Wright shows that early Christians were surprisingly bookish. He asks, “So instead of reading little and gathering infrequently, what might happen today if Christians read a great deal in community like they did in the first century?

“We are living in the midst of the greatest turning of Muslims to Christ in history” Lucinda Borkett-Jones reports on the story of the growing numbers of Muslims around the world who are becoming Christians.

What we miss when we skip the prophets.

Ryan Higginbottom asks, “From what Biblical book is your pastor preaching? What are you reading in your devotional times? What book of the Bible are you studying in your small group? Let me guess: An epistle? A gospel? An Old Testament historical book? Some of the Wisdom literature (Psalms, Proverbs, etc.)? I’d bet very few of you would answer Ezekiel, or Micah, or Zechariah. . . . .”

“Aside from missing out on a fifth of God’s word, here are five specific treasures we miss when we consistently neglect the reading and study of the prophets. (These are not all features exclusive to the prophets, but they appear in most of the prophetic books.)”

Read the whole article HERE.

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The Gospel of John and the (re)creation of the cosmos.

Leo Smits writes, “It is well known that there are references in the Gospels, that are an allusion to the Old Testament. . . . . This is also the case in the gospel of John. . . . . Various New Testament scholars have already seen a reference to the creation story in Genesis 1 and 2 in various parts in the Gospel.” He then gives some examples and continues, “These examples show that ‘creation’ is an important theme for the apostle of the Gospel of John. But could it not be that the writer in his gospel not [only] occasionally returns to this theme in his gospel, but that whole gospel encompasses this? After long and thorough examination, I am of the opinion that this is the case. More and more I am convinced that the gospel of John is built up from the structure of the creation story of Genesis 1 and 2. . . . .”

In his conclusion, he says, “John sees Jesus as the Re-creator, and at the same time as the second Adam, who recreates the world (and especially humans) in (initially) the six days of creation, and subsequently, by his death, to enter the Sabbath and on the new first day (eighth day) to stand . . . as a new creation.”

Read the whole article HERE.

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This world is not my home.

Thomas Smith writes, “It sure feels like home. From the air we breathe to the reassuring pull of the earth’s gravity, from the delight we take in the perfect harmony between the colors of nature to the pleasure given by the sound of rain on leaves or the sight of snowflakes the size of goose feathers, we feel at home here. This is our home, our place. . . . . All of which leads us to investigate further just what the relationship of the Christian, as a human being and as a saint, is to this present creation. . . . .”

“Paul, in 1 Timothy 4:1-5, speaks clearly to this matter. . . . Paul affirms the goodness of the fallen creation (v. 4), the purpose of God in creating these things to be “received with gratitude” (v. 3), and the propriety of Christian believers using these gifts “by those who believe and know the truth” (v. 3). . . . . But there is more to it than this. There is a priestly activity involved in the believer’s use of the everyday blessings of this creation. Because he receives these gifts of God with thanksgiving and in the knowledge that they have come from Him, even these common things become holy. It is consecrated (sanctified) by the Word of God and prayer. . . . . The only valid category which remains for the Christian is the lawful/unlawful one. If God has permitted it, it is lawful; if He has forbidden it, it is ‘off-limits’.”

Smith concludes, “What a wonderful door to life is opened with this truth! I am now free to live, free to obey, free to use this world, free to give thanks to the Giver of every good and perfect gift. I am, in a word, free to be human in the fullest sense of the word! So, while we look for a new heaven and earth where righteousness dwells, we live out the days of our pilgrimage here in training and anticipation of this, and we live as priests, acknowledging God in the whole· of our existence. . . . . Let us, then, replace “This World Is Not My Home” with something finer.”

Read the whole article HERE.

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Reading together, early Church style. New historical research by Brian J. Wright shows that early Christians were surprisingly bookish.

Caleb Lindgren interviews Brian J. Wright, who has recently published Communal Reading in the Time of Jesus. Lindgren writes, “Brian J. Wright first experienced communal reading more than 15 years ago, which led him into the field of textual criticism . . . . . . . . But when he began PhD work, Wright wanted to step back and ask who was reading what in the first century. . . . his research revealed a vibrant and active culture of communal reading in the first-century Greco-Roman world. . . . .”

Wright explains, “It would have occurred in many different ways. It could have been friends sharing literature. It could have been public figures actually having something at a theater or auditorium. They happened in both formal and informal venues: apartments, temples, synagogues. They were happening everywhere, courtrooms, private homes, schools. . . . . Also notable is the type of reader, that it’s not just the elite. All sorts of people were reading.” Christians, too, were reading communally. Wright says, “. . . Christians encouraged communal reading not as an end in itself but as a way of comprehending the text, promoting unity, of forming spiritually, of becoming like Christ. . . . .”

Wright comments, “Christians are no longer bookish, like the earliest Christian communities. Christians are more self-focused than communally focused, unlike the earliest Christian communities. And so I hear people saying all the time, “I don’t need to go to church.” I think my book provides yet another way of countering that argument because there was extensive interaction among Christians in the first century. There was a broad circulation of Christian writings. . . . . I mention in the book a few communities like that in Jude or in 1 Peter. These would have been bookish communities that were reading literature outside of the Bible, apocryphal literature, Enoch and others.”

Wright asks, “So instead of reading little and gathering infrequently, what might happen today if Christians read a great deal in community like they did in the first century? As I was doing my research, I saw that communal reading was a powerful discipleship tool because it aided understanding. It fostered community. It promoted a healthy interactive discussion of our common confession.”

Read the whole article HERE.

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‘We are living in the midst of the greatest turning of Muslims to Christ in history’.

Lucinda Borkett-Jones wrote (in 2015), “Despite the daily news of the persecution of Christians around the world by Islamist groups, there is another, lesser-known story of growing numbers of Muslims around the world who are turning to Christ as Lord. Missionary David Garrison’s book, A Wind in the House of Islam, charts this phenomenon, which he says demonstrates that “we are living in the midst of the greatest turning of Muslims to Christ in history”. The book is the result of two and a half years of research and involved travelling more than 250,000 miles to conduct interviews with more than 1,000 people around the Muslim world. In the study, a ‘movement’ of believers is defined as a group of more than 1,000 baptised believers or 100 new churches within a Muslim community. In total he found 69 movements that had started in the first 12 years of the 21st century, in comparison with virtually no voluntary movements of converts to Christianity in the first 12 centuries of Islam. . . . . So why is this turning to Christ happening now?” Read the whole article HERE.

Click HERE to access David Garrison’s website, A Wind in the House.

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The Friday Briefing 9 (4 May 2018)

Christ Ascended for Us Jesus’s ascension will be celebrated in a few days’ time – on Ascension Day, Thursday 10th May. His ascension is not a subject we perhaps think about very much. If we do, we may perhaps think of it as a postscript to His incarnation, life, crucifixion and resurrection. Yet, as Nick Needham makes clear in this article, Jesus’s ascension is hugely important.

The Ascension: Humanity in the Presence of God by Tim Chester and Jonny Woodrow This remarkable little book can transform the way you think of Jesus’s ascension.

Gerrit Dawson: Jesus is still a Human Mike Feazell interviews Dr. Gerrit Dawson about the importance of Jesus being human even after His Ascension. As well as teaching about the Ascension, Dr. Gerrit – himself a pastor – also brings a pastoral perspective on what Jesus’s Ascension means for us.

The True Tabernacle In John 1.14, we read, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The word “dwelt” can be literally translated “lived in a tent” or “tabernacled’. Mike Moore writes, ”In his Gospel, John reveals the glory of the Word by showing how every piece of furniture in the Tabernacle corresponded to a glorious quality in Jesus.”

Wanted: people to lead us in the way of wonder Trevin Wax writes, “In an age of disenchantment, a world in which people are starved by superficiality, we need . . . .  . . . theologians and pastors who combine their desire for theological accuracy with the desire to showcase biblical beauty, until we stand in awe—of this world in all of its haunted goodness and of the gospel in all of its long-awaited surprise.”

The film you have been waiting for: Puritan A new documentary, PURITAN: All of Life to the Glory of God, is due for release early next year. This release includes, as well as the documentary, up to thirty short lessons on Puritan people and Puritan themes, a workbook, and another book introducing the Puritans authored by Michael Reeves and Joel Beeke. Joel writes, “Why would we do this, and why should you be interested? The answer is that, in the providence of God, the Puritans are colossuses in church history. . . . . By the Spirit’s grace, the Puritans will enrich your life as a Christian in many ways . . . .”

Christ Ascended for Us by Nick Needham.

Jesus’s ascension will be celebrated in a few days’ time – on Ascension Day, Thursday 10th May. His ascension is not a subject we perhaps think about very much. If we do, we may perhaps think of it as a postscript to His incarnation, life, crucifixion and resurrection.

Yet, as Nick Needham makes clear in this article (which I reviewed some while ago) Jesus’s ascension is hugely important. When He returned to His Father at His ascension He didn’t stop being a Man. Being human wasn’t just a temporary condition that He assumed whilst on Earth and divested Himself of on His return to Heaven. He is still a Man, and will remain so for all eternity. There is now a Man – a Member of our own human race – in heaven. And Jesus still has a physical body. His body is glorious, incorruptible, perfect. But it is a true physical body nonetheless. This has staggering implications for each of us individually, and for our human race as a whole – as Dr Needham brings out so well in his article.

Dr Needham’s original article is available HERE. My review is available HERE.

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The Ascension: Humanity in the Presence of God by Tim Chester and Jonny Woodrow.

This remarkable little book can transform the way you think of Jesus’s ascension. His ascension may simply seem like a postscript to His life here on Earth. But it’s a vital part of His saving work for us. As the authors point out, “Atonement was not complete until Jesus stood before God on our behalf.” Jesus is our ascended Priest and King, our ‘Man in Heaven’ at our Father’s right hand, enthroned in absolute authority over Heaven and Earth!

Our calling and destiny as God’s people is to be His royal family, made in His image to rule over His creation. The authors explain that the ascended Jesus has realised this destiny: “The ascension of Jesus is the foretaste of the ascension of a new humanity to our royal status.” And through His ascension, He has secured that destiny for every one of God’s people: “Those in Christ will . . . be what we were meant to be and what we were born to be.”

Perhaps the authors’ greatest achievement is to set Jesus’s ascension squarely into its context in the whole of God’s redemptive plan from creation to the new creation.

And Jesus’s ascension inevitably raises questions. Where exactly is Jesus now? Jesus is in heaven, yet He’s present with His people. We live here on Earth, yet we’re seated with Him in the heavenly realms. How does this all work in our universe of space and time? Where exactly is heaven and how does it relate to our own world? And what happens when Jesus returns to Earth at the end of the age? The authors guide us through this mysterious terrain.

Read the publishers description of the book HERE.

Read my original review HERE.

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Gerrit Dawson: Jesus is still a Human.

Mike Feazell interviews Dr. Gerrit Dawson about the importance of Jesus being human even after His Ascension.

Mike Feazell begins the interview by asking: “Let’s begin by talking about Jesus’ incarnation and especially, his incarnation after his death and resurrection – a lot of people think of Jesus as being God in the flesh while he’s here on earth walking and talking and breathing, but once he’s crucified and resurrected and ascended and at the right hand of God, we don’t think of it quite the same way. We think of him, now he is fully God again, but not fully human as well. What’s wrong with that?”

You can see the interview, or read the transcript HERE (read the transcript by clicking ► Program Transcript (click to view): lower down the page). Gerrit Scott Dawson received his D.Min. degree in 2002 from Reformed Theological Seminary. He is currently senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. As well as the theology of Jesus’s Ascension, Dr. Gerrit also brings a pastoral perspective on what Jesus’s Ascension means for us.

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The True Tabernacle.

“The only building ever constructed upon this earth which was perfect from its very beginning and outset in every detail, and never again needed attention, alteration, was the tabernacle in the wilderness … Every single detail was designed by Almighty God, every part had a prophetic, redemptive and typical significance.” (M.R. DeHaan, quoted by Philip Graham Ryken in his commentary on Exodus, Crossway Books, page 813). Mike Moore writes, “The Tabernacle was the house of God. It was the meeting place of heaven and earth. In Exodus 40, as the Tabernacle was raised and dedicated, the glory of God descended and entered the Holy of Holies.”

“In John 1:14, John tells us, “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt [literally, “tabernacled”] among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” John chose his words carefully. “The Word became flesh and tabernacled” among his people. John intended to show us in his Gospel that the tabernacle was a foreshadowing of Jesus, the Word of God, and that Jesus is in fact the true tabernacle in whom the glory of God shines. In his Gospel, John reveals the glory of the Word by showing how every piece of furniture in the Tabernacle corresponded to a glorious quality in Jesus.”

Read the whole article HERE. A formatted PDF version of this sermon is available HERE.

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Wanted: people to lead us in the way of wonder.

Trevin Wax writes, “In an age of disenchantment, a world in which people are starved by superficiality, we need writers and pastors and artists who can feed us with the wonder of existence. . . . . We need theologians and pastors who combine their desire for theological accuracy with the desire to showcase biblical beauty, until we stand in awe—of this world in all of its haunted goodness and of the gospel in all of its long-awaited surprise.” Read the whole article HERE.

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The film you have been waiting for: Puritan.

Joel Beeke writes, “I am excited to announce that Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Reformation Heritage Books, Media Gratiae, and Stephen McCaskell are together creating PURITAN: All of Life to the Glory of God. This includes a feature documentary, up to thirty short lessons on Puritan people and Puritan themes, a workbook, and another book introducing the Puritans authored by Michael Reeves and me. Why would we do this, and why should you be interested? The answer is that, in the providence of God, the Puritans are colossuses in church history. . . . . They were imperfect, largely seventeenth-century men seeking to live faithfully in and through very difficult circumstances.”

”By the Spirit’s grace, the Puritans will enrich your life as a Christian in many ways as they open the Scriptures and apply them practically, probing your conscience, indicting your sins, leading you to repentance, shaping your faith, augmenting your prayer life and meditation, guiding your conduct, comforting you in Christ and conforming you to Him, teaching you how to live through affliction to God’s glory, rebuking your pride, increasing your reliance on the Holy Spirit, and bringing you into a more robust assurance of salvation and a lifestyle of gratitude to the triune God for His great salvation.”

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 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 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.

The Friday Briefing 2 (16 March 2018)

Welcome to the second issue of The Friday Briefing. (If you missed the first, it’s available 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.

Three reasons to keep reading the Old Testament

The Skull Crushing Seed of the Woman: Inner-Biblical Interpretation of Genesis 3:15

7 theological issues confronting the local church

The assumption we cannot afford

A golden age in Christian publishing

The parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18.21-35) – a sermon

Three reasons to keep reading the Old Testament

Aaron Armstrong comments, “The Old Testament causes much consternation among North American evangelicals. Although historically, Christians have embraced the Old Testament as being absolutely essential to the Christian life—I believe the first person to do this was Jesus—somewhere along the way, we got scared of it.” Aaron gives us “three reasons to keep the Old Testament front and center” HERE

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The Skull Crushing Seed of the Woman: Inner-Biblical Interpretation of Genesis 3:15

After Adam and Eve had sinned in the Garden of Eden, God cursed the serpent, who had tempted them, (Genesis 3.14-15) and pronounced judgment on Eve (Genesis 3.16) and Adam (Genesis 3.17-19). To the serpent, he said, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” James M. Hamilton, Professor of Biblical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, writes, “God’s first act of judgment in the Bible is accompanied by his first promise of salvation, and the salvation will come through the judgment. As the serpent is cursed, he is told that he will proceed on his belly and that he will eat dust (Gen 3:14). Further, enmity is placed between him and the woman, and between his seed and the seed of the woman. This enmity will issue in the seed of the woman crushing the head of the serpent (3:15).” In his article, Dr. Hamilton highlights “the theme of the head crushing seed of the woman in the Bible.” He continues, “Even if at many points my interpretation of the data is disputed, this study will nevertheless contribute a catalog of the intertextual use of the theme of the smashing of the skulls of the enemies of God.” Dr. Hamilton finds imagery from Genesis 3.15 in many texts in both the Old and New Testaments – in his words, “the seed of the woman crushing the head(s) of the seed of the serpent, . . . shattered enemies, trampled enemies, dust eating defeated enemies, and smashed serpents.”

Read the whole article HERE

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7 theological issues confronting the local church

Jason K. Allen comments that in every era, Christians are called “to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 3). He writes, “Some struggles recur in every generation. Battles such as the veracity of Scripture or the person and work of Christ are perennial ones. The church, again and again, has to articulate and defend these doctrines. Other battles, such as the Bible’s teaching on marriage, gender, and human sexuality, seem to appear out of nowhere, and require the church to be agile, quick, and forceful in response. Christians are not to be pugilists, always on the look out for doctrinal fights. But we better not be cowards either, unwilling to find one. In fact, Martin Luther—the reluctant reformer—serves as a good role model. Luther challenged the ruling ecclesiastical and magisterial authorities of his day, under constant threat of death, because his “conscience was bound to the Word of God.” . . . . In the spirit of Luther, the church—and especially those who lead it—must continually ask itself, “where is the battle raging? Which truths are under assault? Against what attacks should Christians mobilize and engage?” When considered in this light, seven theological challenges surface for the church to confront.”

Read about those seven theological challenges HERE

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The assumption we cannot afford

Jen Wilkin writes, “We ended another year of women’s Bible study last Tuesday: eleven weeks in the epistles of John and eleven weeks in James. Fifty-four different churches were represented in our enrollment this year. A couple thousand more women podcast from around the country. At the conclusion I was deluged with cards and e-mails from participants expressing their gratitude, reflecting on what they had learned, and, almost uniformly, uttering a confession I have heard so often that it no longer surprises. . . . . Their confession is this: ‘I’ve been in church for years, but no one has taught me to study my Bible until now.’ . . . . . . . it is terrifying to me that so many women log years in the church and remain unlearned in the Scriptures. . . . . Church leaders, I fear we have made a costly and erroneous assumption about those we lead. I fear that in our enthusiasm to teach about finances, gender roles, healthy relationships, purity, culture wars, and even theology we have neglected to build foundational understanding of the Scriptures among our people.”

Jen urges us to “. . . teach the Bible.” She continues, “Please hear me. We must teach the Bible, and we must do so in such a way that those sitting under our teaching learn to feed themselves rather than rely solely on us to feed them.”

Read the whole article HERE

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A golden age in Christian publishing

Tim Challies sometimes finds himself “grumbling a little bit about the state of publishing today, and especially the state of Christian publishing. Many of the big publishers have been gobbled up by corporations whose primary concern is not the glory of God but the health of the bottom line. Some of the medium-sized publishers seem to collect any and every rambling word of the popular pastors and personalities so they can slap those words on paper. Many of the smallest publishers are churning out books that simply do not deserve to be printed. New tools for self-publishing allow anyone with an idea to commit it to paper and distribute it as widely as they can. And that’s not all that is concerning or annoying. There are the thousands of truly awful, unbiblical books being published each year, and the fact that the bestseller lists are inevitably dominated by titles that are not only bad, but often downright dangerous.”

But he continues: “And yet, when I stop and consider the state of Christian publishing, I can’t help but think that we are in a golden age. A strange age, to be sure, but a golden one nonetheless.” Tim brings evidence for this HERE

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The parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18.21-35) – a sermon

Mark Stirling, senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in St. Andrews, Scotland, gets to the heart of this powerfully challenging parable about forgiveness. In this message, Mark says: “if we don’t forgive other people, then we have failed to grasp the character of God Himself.” He comments: “Over the years that [my wife and I] have been involved in various aspects of Christian ministry, we would say that this issue of unforgiveness is one of the major stumblingblocks . . . towards people . . . becoming the people that God has made them to be.”

Mark points out that simply and humbly to receive from God, knowing that we cannot pay Him back, that we cannot earn our forgiveness, changes who’s in charge of our lives. If we try to pay God back, we remain in control of our lives. But to receive God’s mercy and forgiveness takes our self off the throne of our lives.

Listen to the whole sermon HERE (it’s the fourth message down from the top).

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture 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 1 (9 March 2018)

Welcome to the first issue of The Friday Briefing. The aim of this new 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.

I hope that some of the resources highlighted in this briefing will prove helpful. Paul prayed for the church in Colossae: “that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, . . . .” (Colossians 1.9-12). That is my own prayer, too.

”All the Law and the Prophets…” in a piece of fruit

Exodus Themes in Luke 9.10-50

What Tolkien did so well, what we do so poorly

Why you want [adult] Sunday school

Book review – Bound Together by Chris Brauns

Creation Sings, a hymn by Keith and Kristyn Getty and Stuart Townend

“All the Law and the Prophets…” in a piece of fruit

Jared Totten writes, “We’re all familiar with the story. In fact, if you grew up in the church, you’re probably so familiar with the story that there’s no surprise, no suspense left in it. But Genesis 3 is an epic drama. The fate of the entire human race hanging in the balance as good and evil are paraded across this cosmic stage. . . . . And at the center of it all: fruit. Yep, skin and pulp and juice. . . . . “What’s the big deal with the fruit?!!”

Read the whole article HERE

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Exodus Themes in Luke 9.10-50

Alastair Roberts (who is always worth reading) finds New Exodus themes in Luke’s Gospel chapter 9. He writes, “In my church’s midweek Bible study groups last night, we were going through Luke 9:10-50. It struck me that there are a number of interesting potential Exodus themes in there. Here are a few that jumped out at me. . . . .”

In a reply to a comment on his post, Dr. Roberts writes: “The accounts of Jesus’ ministry are not just collections of various miracle, teaching, and healing stories, but are unified narratives driving in a specific direction. Recognizing Exodus and other patterns helps us to relate various individual gospel narratives to a single Gospel Narrative and, beyond that, to see an underlying unity in the entire biblical story, something that I am trying to show in my 40 Days of Exodus series. When Jesus models his ministry after that of Moses, or Elijah and Elisha (for instance, compare Luke 4:4-24-27 and Luke 7:1-17), we can have a sense of where things are going, of the meaning of his actions, and of Jesus’ perception of his mission. When related to the larger framework, certain events take on a new significance. For instance, the feeding of the four thousand might seem superfluous, merely repeating an earlier miracle on a smaller scale. However, once we recognize the underlying patterns and relations, it becomes a very important event in its own right, not a mere unnecessary repetition. With this approach, we can recognize that Jesus’ life and ministry serves a salvation purpose, not merely his death and resurrection.”

Read the whole article HERE

The Exodus is a foundational theme in the Bible. God delivered His people Israel from Egypt through an Exodus. Jesus, too, saves people through a new Exodus. This new Exodus is prophesied in a number of places (for example Isaiah 11.10-16 and Isaiah 43.14-21). God was going to rescue people from a slavemaster far worse than the Egyptians. He was going to rescue them from bondage to sin and Satan. That Exodus would be accomplished by the Messiah, Jesus Christ. The Messiah would deliver people from sin and Satan through His death, resurrection and ascension to His Father in heaven. Click HERE for an outline study that compares the first Exodus from Egypt and the second and greater Exodus that Jesus the Messiah accomplished.

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What Tolkien did so well, what we do so poorly.

Tim Challies writes, “Over the past few weeks I have been reading through The Lord of the Rings, slowly meandering my way through Middle Earth for the umpteenth time. . . . . Tolkien did not simply write a story, he created a world. . . . . One of the great strengths of Tolkien’s work is its grounding in history. One of the great weaknesses of the contemporary church is its detachment from its own history. Few of today’s Christians have a clear sense of how the church came to be. They know of Acts and Reformation and Billy Graham, but the rest is a blur. There are many reasons we ought to teach believers their history.”

Read the whole article HERE

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Why you want [adult] Sunday school

In many American churches, there has been a tradition of teaching adults (as well as children) in Sunday School. This would be in addition to any evening and/or midweek gatherings. In these scenarios, then, an adult would have opportunity for Bible teaching, often in a setting that facilitated group discussion, as well a sermon during the worship time.

But British churches, by and large, do not run adult Sunday school, or regular Bible classes of any kind. Jonathan Pennington writes: “During my graduate studies in Scotland, I noticed that many churches didn’t have Sunday school, and there seemed to be a correlation between the lack of adult Sunday School and the generally lower biblical literacy among the congregation. I’m sure that there are other factors involved, and that there are many churches in the United Kingdom that are exemplary in both biblical literacy and adult education. But the experience . . . cast the value of Sunday school in a new light.”

They comment: “If you don’t have Sunday school, where are you going to teach people how to study the Bible? Where are you going to give them a thorough grounding in systematic theology? Where are you going to discuss the ins and outs of parenting, or dating and marriage, or evangelism? I’m afraid that when churches abandon Sunday school, some of these things are simply no longer being taught to the congregation as a whole. And churches are thereby missing a significant opportunity to equip their people with biblical building blocks for faithful discipleship.”

Read the whole article HERE

The magazine in which this article was published contains a number of articles about adult Sunday school. Read them all HERE

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Book review – Bound Together by Chris Brauns

I’ve recently added a review of this book HERE. Michael Horton, J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California writes: “In Bound Together, Chris Brauns cleverly unpacks two key theological concepts—union with Christ, and original sin—and manages to explain them in a way that any reader can understand. Highly recommended.”

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Creation Sings – sung by Stuart Townend; words and music by Keith and Kristyn Getty and Stuart Townend

I love this hymn!

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture 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.