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.

Click here to go back to table of contents

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.

Click here to go back to table of contents

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

Click here to go back to table of contents

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.

Click here to go back to table of contents

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.

Click here to go back to table of contents

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.

Click here to go back to table of contents

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

Click here to go back to table of contents

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

Click here to go back to table of contents

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

Click here to go back to table of contents

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

Click here to go back to table of contents

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.

In his article The writings of C.S. Lewis like you’ve never seen them before, Justin Taylor 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 first chapter of] The Abolition of Man:“ “In order to aid understanding, I have also visited many libraries to collate the more than fifty literary references, in their original context. I provide them for you in a PDF document as endnotes (pg. 26) to the text of the first chapter.” The audiovisual for the first chapter of The Abolition of Man is available HERE, and the PDF document accompanying it is available HERE.

Listening to these videos is the next best thing to listening to C.S. Lewis himself. They are superb, and the ‘doodling’ that takes place on the video as you listen holds your attention and reinforces the message in a remarkable way. The video above, entitled The Invasion, is one of them. It’s an audiovisual presentation of C.S Lewis’ third talk of the third radio series called What Christians Believe. This talk became one of the chapters (chapter 2 of Book 2) in Lewis’s book Mere Christianity. (The Morse code at the very end of this video can be translated by pushing the captions/subtitles button on the video.)

Read Justin Taylor’s article HERE

Click here to go back to table of contents