The Friday Briefing 17 (7 December 2018)

What is the greatest of all Protestant ‘heresies’ Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621), a key figure in the sixteenth-century Counter-Reformation, once wrote, “The greatest of all Protestant heresies is _______ .”What do you think that heresy is? Dr Sinclair Ferguson explains.

Australian church leaders, prepare your people for persecution
Campbell Markham exhorts leaders in the Australian churches – an exhortation equally relevant to church leaders in many other countries: “Prepare your churches for persecution, and particularly your young people. You have no time to lose. And give them the priceless gift of gospel clarity. No Christian will survive persecution if they do not have a very clear, comprehensive, and precise understanding and conviction about the gospel.”

Hidden gems Nathan Young asks why it is that some people in a local church, though having definite potential for serving in in that church, get passed over. He asks, ”Who are the hidden gems in your church?”

3 classic poems every Christian should read Leland Ryken introduces us to three classic poems which he says “should be read and cherished by Christians today”.

Behold the Lamb who bears our sins away (Communion Hymn) Stuart Townend and Keith and Kristyn Getty wrote this wonderful hymn specifically for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

What is the greatest of all Protestant ‘heresies’?

Sinclair Ferguson writes, “Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621) was a figure not to be taken lightly. He was Pope Clement VIII’s personal theologian and one of the most able figures in the Counter-Reformation movement within sixteenth-century Roman Catholicism. On one occasion, he wrote: “The greatest of all Protestant heresies is _______ .” Complete, explain, and discuss Bellarmine’s statement. How would you answer? What is the greatest of all Protestant heresies?” And why does Dr Ferguson exclaim “The greatest of all heresies? If heresy, let me enjoy this most blessed of ‘heresies’!” Read Dr. Ferguson’s article HERE.

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Australian church leaders, prepare your people for persecution.

Last year an 18-year-old Australian Christian called Madeline, who worked as a contractor for the children’s entertainment company Capital Kids Parties, had her contract ended after posting a picture on Facebook with the filter ‘It’s OK to Vote No’ (in other words, ‘No’ to same-sex marriage] in the run-up to the Australian Parliament’s vote on whether to legalise same-sex marriage.

Campbell Markham writes, “We live and worship within a growing hostile environment. How are we going to go? How must we respond to this change?” His comments are, of course, relevant to Christians in many other countries.

Markham comments, “I expect, within the remainder of my lifetime, that Christians will be legally restricted in their ability to speak out and live out their faith in the public sphere.  . . . . I expect, within the remainder of my lifetime, that Christians will be forbidden to educate their children the way they want to. . . . . I expect, within the remainder of my lifetime, that professing Christians will begin to be barred from such professions as law, education, healthcare, the academy, and the civil service.”

Markham exhorts leaders in the church: “Prepare your churches for persecution, and particularly your young people. You have no time to lose. And give them the priceless gift of gospel clarity. No Christian will survive persecution if they do not have a very clear, comprehensive, and precise understanding and conviction about the gospel. Only the gospel will hold us up upright under the hail of persecution’s arrows.”

Read the whole article HERE.

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Hidden gems.

Nathan Young writes, “Picture a small church with under 15 members, the pastor is working class, as are a couple of the core team members. . . . . This church not only has a desire to reach working class people, but also wants to train and disciple working-class people for future ministry and service. Imagine that a young woman from the local estate starts attending – she’s professing faith but is still uncertain on some theological issues and rough around the edges. She knows the community and has no problems sharing her faith. She might not be a ready-made female gospel worker, but there’s definitely future potential. The question is: why did one of the elders not see that future potential until it was pointed out to him? Of course, this small church is real – it’s New Life Church Middlesbrough, and the short-sighted elder was me.”

In answering this question, Stone makes the following observation, “In his lecture ‘The Inner Ring’, C.S. Lewis starts by talking about the character Boris Dubretskoy from War and Peace. Young Boris learns that in the army there is both the formal structure made up of officers, lieutenants and corporals, but there is a second, unspoken organisation which transcends all of that, where some people somehow belong and some people simply don’t. . . . . Could this be the problem in our churches?” I think Stone has highlighted an important point – and one that perhaps every church leader needs to consider.

Read the whole article HERE.

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3 classic poems every Christian should read.

Leland Ryken introduces us to three classic poems which he says “should be read and cherished by Christians today” – one each by John Milton (1608-1674), Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) and Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889). Along with the text, Dr. Ryken includes some commentary. Read the whole article HERE.

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Behold the Lamb who bears our sins away (Communion Hymn).

This is a wonderful hymn from Stuart Townend and Keith and Kristyn Getty. It was written specifically for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Townend writes, “When I’m preparing to write a lyric, I usually gather together everything I can find in the Scriptures on a particular theme, so I can get as comprehensive a picture as possible of what the bible teaches. And as I did that, three aspects of communion became clear: the act of remembering and celebrating Christ’s death through eating bread and drinking wine; the expression of being one in Christ through sharing in one bread and one cup; and the proclamation of Christ’s return.”

The lyrics and other information are available on Stuart Townend’s website page for this song HERE.

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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 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.