New Book on the Parables

I seem to be doing a lot of book reviews lately. So be it. There is so much being published these days that it is difficult even to keep up with the Reformed sector of it. However, I wanted to put in a plug for a wonderful book I purchased recently on the parables. I have read only the first 10 pages so far, but am already deeply impressed. This is a major tome (846 pages with the indices) that offers a full-length commentary on every parable. Even the short ones get a full explanation (for instance, the one verse parable of the treasure in Matthew 13:44 gets 12 pages!). The parable of the sower gets 34 pages. He has read everything of importance, and the bibliography is priceless. This will certainly be the authoritative and standard treatment of the parables for quite some time to come. If anyone is thinking of preaching on the parables, this is a must read.

New Conference on Adoption

To go alont with Joel Beeke’s new book on adoption, there is going to be a conference this fall on the doctrine. I have long felt that adoption is an under-studied doctrine in Reformed circles. The privilege of being called God’s family is inestimable. So, check out the book and the conference, which has such speakers as Rick Phillips and Carl Robbins speaking.

Recent Books on New Testament Theology

This book fills a lacuna for the beginning student in New Testament. There are not many texts on a college level from a Reformed perspective. Ladd is suitable for seminary students, but not really for college students. And, though Ladd was certainly on target with his redemptive-historical paradigm, he was off on a few other things. So, it is good to see a new book out on New Testament theology written on a college level. It takes a thematic approach, asking the questions that the author thinks the New Testament authors asked: “Who is Jesus? What Must I Do to be Saved? How Should Believers Live? What is the Church? What is the Church’s Relation to Society? and How Shall It End?” One last question addressed is this: “What Does the New Testament Tell Us About God?” Scholars who have gone through seminary course-work on the New Testament will not learn a whole lot they didn’t already know. However, the contents focus on what is important, and do it in a way that is a good summary. The author does not leave out whole swaths of teaching. So, it is a great book for someone wanting to find out more about the New Testament.

A word might be helpful about several New Testament theologies that have come out recently. The one reviewed above and Schreiner’s New Testament Theology are both synthetic and topical, attempting to summarize the entire New Testament thinking on various subjects. The advantage to this approach is that very little in the way of repetition is required (for instance, among the Synoptic Gospels, a separate treatment of each one would necessitate a fair bit of repetition). It does justice to the ultimacy of God’s voice in the New Testament, showing easily that God is the ultimate author. It shows the unity of the New Testament voice. The disadvantages are that it is difficult to preserve the distinctiveness of each author within the New Testament; Furthermore, if one wants to know about a particular book’s theology, it is difficult to find the information.

The above reasons make it useful for there to be several different approaches to New Testament Theology. A book by book approach is what Marshall and Thielman use to great effectiveness. Busy pastors will probably lean towards this approach, since it allows them to find information on the distinct contribution of a particular NT book without hunting through the entire book.

I think in the end that a definitive New Testament Theology is yet to be written. It would combine these approaches. To my mind, the synthetic, thematic approach would be the place to start, since the unity of the New Testament message shows the Divine origin more clearly. After that, the diversity would also need to be shown, and the book by book approach would occupy the second half of the volume. Such a tome would, of course, be utterly massive. However, I think the results would be worth it. As of now, one should read both approaches. This necessitates reading more than one book. Eventually, there may come a book that does ample justice to both approaches. I eagerly await the day.

New Book on Jonathan Edwards

This book on the preaching of Edwards fills a rather enormous gap. Although Marsden addresses the preaching of Edwards briefly, he does not do systematic justice to the subject. A book such as this has long been a desideratum.

Doing the Will of God

Matthew 12:46-50

8/24/2008

Walter Knight told of an old Scottish woman who went from home to home across the country-side selling thread, buttons, and shoestrings. When she came to an unmarked crossroad, she would toss a stick into the air and go in the direction the stick pointed when it landed. One day, however, she was seen tossing the stick up several times. “Why do you toss the stick more than once?” someone asked. “Because,” replied the woman, “it keeps pointing to the left, and I want to take the road on the right.” She then dutifully kept throwing the stick into the air until it pointed the way she wanted to go! This story is from Today in the Word, May, 1989. Isn’t that just the way we think about the will of God? The will of God may be telling us to do something, and yet we think we know what the will of God really is. So, we will keep on doing things the way we want until we think that God must just have to come along for the ride. This is a very dangerous way of thinking. But, more positively, how do we know what the will of God is? And how will we choose our course of action? Doing the will of God is being a brother or sister to Christ. That is what our text says.

The context of the passage is important. Jesus has been talking about the heart. The heart’s con-dition determines what comes out of it. A good heart results in good fruit, and a bad heart results in bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot produce good fruit. People can only have a good heart if God makes that happen. In other words, the context tells us that we should not look at verse 50 and say that we need to do the will of God in order to become the brother or sister of Christ. And Jesus does not in fact say that. He says that whoever does the will of God is His brother or sister. So we can see the importance of the context for helping us understand this passage: God changes the heart so that good deeds will result. Someone with a changed heart is the brother or sister of Christ.

Now, the passage itself is strange. It looks as if someone came to Jesus merely to tell Him that His relatives wanted to talk to Him, and Jesus gives this very strange response that might sound like an insult to his family. However, that is not what is happening. What is really happening is that Jesus saw an opportunity here to teach about the new family of Christ. Christ came not only to take our guilt on Himself, not only to free us from sin’s guilt and power, not only to assure us that we have a resurrection body, but also to give us a new relationship with God. It is a relationship that is familial. We become part of God’s family. It is difficult to exaggerate what a privilege that is. Anyone would probably leap to become adopted by some great person in the world. It is a ticket to money and fame. Well, we have a ticket to the title deed of the new heavens and the new earth if we are adopted by God into His family. It is worth far more than the world could ever possibly offer. Many people dream about being a millionaire, or in our culture, since that is becoming so common, a billionaire. But Christians own far more than that. A unbelieving billionaire is in abject poverty when compared with what the Christian has. For God owns the entire universe, and we are His heirs.

So Jesus asks this question, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Are you one of Christ’s brothers or sisters? This is the question that lies at the heart of all Christianity, for it is the question of salvation. Only those who have been given a new root system, to refer to Christ’s tree metaphor a bit, are the true brothers and sisters of Christ.

The tree, however, is known by its fruit. That is what verse 33 says. How do you know who the brothers and sisters of Christ are? Well, they are the ones who do the will of God. That is the evidence. But now we come to the question, “What is the will of God?” Many books have been written on this topic, and much debate surrounds the question. However, the question is actually simple to answer. The will of God that we are supposed to do is what God requires of us in the Bible. The will of God for our lives is the Ten Commandments, the law. Remember yet again that the law-keeping does not make us children of God. Rather, the law is what the children of God do. We are made children first, then we act like it. Jessica Hawn, former church secretary who committed immoral acts with Jim Bakker (former host of the PTL Club), and later brought down the PTL empire, said once that God gave her “real peace” about granting an interview to Playboy magazine and posing for topless pictures. On 9-29-87 the news reported that she still considers herself a Christian, but goes to God “one-on-one,” not through any church or organization. See, there is a clear example of someone who doesn’t have the foggiest idea what the will of God is. She seems to think that the will of God consists of what she wants out of life. Her own preferences determine what the will of God is. And when you combine that with a hatred for God’s people in the church, and a desire to be completely on her own, you have a recipe for a complete hypocrite. You know, it is very similar to a movement in the 19th century to write biographies of Jesus. There were probably hundreds of these books written. What is common about almost all of them is that the writer makes Jesus look like the writer. They stare down into a well of water, and see their own reflection and call that reflection Jesus. Similarly, people stare down into the well of what they think is God’s will and find whatever they want to find. God’s law doesn’t seem to matter to them at all. It doesn’t even occur to them that God might have revealed His will to us somewhere. The reason people do not like that idea is that they are like the Scottish woman who wants to take the right fork, when the stick is plainly telling her to go left. But we do not have that option open to us. God has revealed what His will is.

However, we must address an important question here regarding the will of God. There are two parts to the Biblical definition of the will of God. The first part is the revealed will of God, which is the Bible. The second part of the will of God is the hidden will of God. This second sense describes what God wills to happen that will certainly occur. When used in this sense, no one does anything but the will of God. And though it is a hard truth, we have to say that it was the will of God that Adam and Eve would fall into sin. We have to be very careful here, because we cannot say that God is the origin of evil. He is not the author of evil. There is no darkness of evil in God. Nevertheless, He still decrees that evil happen. There is mystery here, and we cannot fully understand how God can decree that evil happen and yet not be the one to blame for evil. Nevertheless, that is the clear teaching of Scripture. The first sense of the will of God, namely, Scripture, the revealed will of God, is often broken. Everyone breaks the law of God all the time. So, there are two wills of God. One is in God only, that is the hidden will of God, and we cannot know it. The other is the revealed will of God, which we can know, since God has given it to us. As Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “the secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” Let me repeat that verse: “the secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

What so often happens is that people want to know what is hidden. We can see that in questions like these: “Does God want me to marry this person or that person?” “Does God want me to take this job or that job?” These questions are not wrong in and of themselves. However, we often ask such questions hoping that the Lord will somehow zap us with direct revelation of the hidden will of God so that we will know. God does not work that way. He communicates to us through the written will of God. So, let’s say you have two jobs that pay about the same, both are honorable jobs that involve no sin in and of themselves, and you are trying to decide which one you should take. And, by the way, although I use jobs, the principle can be applied to any decision that looks like this. God has not revealed His will to you in any supernatural way. What God has done is given you a personality and preferences. Furthermore, there is God’s providence, which will open and shut doors. If the choice is that close, and there are no principles of God’s Word being violated, then pick the one you want to pick. However, what is far more important here is recognizing how deep the principles of God go. Decisions are rarely this neutral in the sense that neither choice is wrong. Usually, one of the choices will have something wrong with it. That something that is wrong is wrong because the Bible will say it is wrong. It cannot be right for Jessica Hahn to say that God has directed her to pose topless for Playboy magazine. That is utterly impossible. God does not tempt people to sin, as James says in his first chapter, and temptation is certainly what that magazine is all about. What fellowship does God have with darkness? The problem is very simple: people will not believe what God has told them. There is a wonderful sign that you can buy at Cracker Barrel, at least you could once. It said, “What part of ‘thou shalt not’ didn’t you understand?” Mark Twain also said similarly that most people have trouble with those parts of the Bible that they don’t understand. He had trouble with those parts of the Bible that he did understand.

So, in conclusion, we should do the will of God, because that is what the brothers and sisters of Christ do. We have been made children of God. That is an inestimable treasure of God’s grace. Therefore, we should act like the children of God.

On Ministering to the Dying and Bereaved

Most of what I have learned about this topic I learned from other people, but I have tested it against Scripture, and have also put it to the test in ministry (16 funerals in almost 4 years), and I find it extremely helpful.

To the Bereaved:

1. While it is true to say that the dead Christian is in a better place, that is not the most helpful thing to say. I mean, it’s great for the dead person that he’s in another better place, but what about the people left behind mourning? In a very real sense, it is a physical bereavement. The bereaved miss the physical presence of the one who has died. They miss the touch, the personality, the talking, the eye contact. This is where it hurts most. Therefore, talking about the resurrection should have a focus not only on the new body that the dead believer will have, but also on the reunion with the bereaved that will occur. This reunion can also be a great gateway into the Gospel message: “How do you know you will see this person again? Only if you trust in Jesus and then have the hope of the same resurrection to eternal life.”

2. Going along with the first point: do not underestimate the power of touch in ministry at this point. Great care must be taken such that touching will always be appropriate. However, I have yet to have anyone misinterpret a hug at such a time. It is a great ease of the sharpness of physical bereavement to have physical contact.

3. Resurrection texts I find are the most appopriate for funerals, even at the funeral of an unbeliever. No other texts in the Bible show us so clearly that death is not the end. No other texts show us so clearly that death is a homegoing and that it is temporary. No other texts offer such hope in the midst of grief. Going right along with this is preaching that death is UNnatural, not natural. Death is an intruder into the created order. We lose sight of this sometimes, especially when we say that death are taxes are inevitable. Make a strong connection between death and sin, as the former is the full flower of the latter. Funerals are the best opportunities to share the Gospel. Nowhere else will people have the results of sin staring them right in the face. Nowhere else can we so legitimately face people with their own mortality and uttermost need of Jesus.

4. Do not advise people to seek to avoid grief. The only way to deal with grief is to go through it, pain and all, recognizing (and 1 Thessalonians 4 is essential here) that the grief of a believer mourning the death of a believer is of a fundamentally different sort than the grief of a non-believer. It is a grief laced with hope. That tempers grief, though it does not eliminate it. Encourage people to take their grief in all honesty to God. The Psalms are important here. We cannot escape grief. The problem with trying to avoid it is that we will bury it, and it will fester, quite possibly into bitterness. It is much better to deal with it immediately and thoroughly, for healing and a measure of peace will come much more quickly that way.

To the Dying:

5. People who are dying want to know about the afterlife. Tell them about where the soul goes, and where the body stays until the Resurrection. It is surprising how many people think that souls sleep after death.

6. People who are dying and know that they are going to heaven will want to know if they can still know things and recognize people. Point to Hebrews 12 in this regard and the passage in Revelation of the souls crying out to God “How long?”

7. People who are dying and do not know where they are going obviously need the Gospel, especially a Gospel of grace. Such people are usually worried about whether their lives have been good enough for God. This is an especially dangerous time for them. They need the full grace of justification by faith alone at this time more than anything else. Machen’s deathbed quotation about the active righteousness of Christ imputed is appropriate also.

8. Ask the dying person about their regrets. Tell them that their past misdeeds and lack of positive deeds can be forgiven in Christ.

New Blog

Approaching 1,000,000 Hits!

I don’t know if Lane is keeping track, but thought it worth at least a moment’s pause to note that this blog is nearing its 1 millionth “hit.”  Now the real question is which will come first, the 1 millionth hit, or Lane purchasing his 1 millionth book?

Early Arrival!

Apparently, this new book on justification arrived early (it was scheduled to arrive in September). All the better! Everyone needs to read this book. It is sure to be the finest treatment of the doctrine in modern times.

John Frame’s Newest Tome

John Frame has written a massive book (1069 pages including indices) on Christian ethics. This is volume three of his series A Theology of Lordship, the other two volumes being this one and this one. There is one more volume to come, on the Word of God.

Frame is known for his tri-perspectivalism (normative, situational, and existential). While some may question whether this fits all the places he chooses to use it, it does seem to fit very well in ethics, since goal, motive and standard correspond respectively to situational, existential, and normative. He does claim, rightly I think, that this way of thinking finds its natural home in ethics (p. xxv).

The book is divided into six parts, labelled Introductory Considerations (wherein he discusses definitions of terms, various forms of ethics, and his tri-perspectivalism), Non-Christian Ethics (which includes a detailed critique of existential, teleological, and deontological ethics), Christian Ethical Methodology (broadly outlining the tri-perspectivalism), The Ten Commandments (this constitutes the heart of the book, and is by far and away the largest portion of the book, weighing in at a hefty 467 pages. This section includes introductory considerations plus a very detailed exposition of the Ten Commandments), Christ and Culture, and Personal Spiritual Maturity. There are then 12 appendices dealing with book reviews and responses to various critics.

I would like to look briefly at the fourth part of the book, and give people a taste of what they will find. Generally speaking, I found the book edifying, detailed, and well-argued. And I agreed with most of what Frame is saying. I will share what I found most helpful: Frame’s view of the law as a whole. While not denying that each of the Ten Commandments has its own sphere, he also argues that the law is a single whole, and that each commandment is a metaphor for the whole law. I am going to quote the whole section on p. 398 to show this (I will take out the Scriptural references and leave just the argumentation):

1. In the first commandment, the “other gods” include mammon and anything else that competes with God for out ultimate loyatly. Since any sin is disloyalty to God, the violation of any commandment is also violation of the first. Thus, all sin violates the first commandment; or, to put it differently, the commandment forbids all sins.

2. In the second commandment, similarly, the sin of worshiping a graven image is the sin of worshiping anything (or worshiping by means of anything) of human devising. “Worship” can be a broad ethical concept in Scripture as well as a narrowly cultic one. Any sin involves following our own purposes, purposes of our own devising, instead of God’s, and that is false worship.

3. In the third commandment, “the name of the Lord” can refer to God’s entire self-revelation, and any disobedience of that revelation can be described as “vanity.” Thus, all sin violates the third commandment.

4. The Sabbath commandment demands godly use of our entire calendar- six days to carry ut our own work to God’s glory, and the seventh to worship and rest. So the whole week is given to us to do God’s will. Any disobedient or ungodly use of time, on the six days or the seventh, may be seen as transgression of the fourth commandment.

5. “Father and mother” in the fifth commandment can be read broadly to refer to all authority and even the authority of God himself. Thus, all disobedience of God violates the fifth commandment.

6. Jesus interprets the sixth commandment to prohibit unrighteous anger because of its disrespect for life. Genesis 9:6 relates this principle to respect for man as God’s image. Since all sin manifests such disrespect for life and for God’s image, it violates the sixth commandment.

7. Adultery is frequently used in Scripture as a metaphor (indeed, more than a metaphor) for idolatry. Israel is pictured as the Lord’s unfaithful wife. The marriage figure is a prominent biblical description of the covenant order. Breaking the covenant at any point is adultery.

8. Withholding tithes and offerings-God’s due- is stealing. Thus, to withhold any honor due to God falls under the same condemnation.

9. “Witnessing” in Scripture is something you are, more than something you do. It involves not only speech, but actions as well. It is comprehensive.

10. Coveting, like stealing, is involved in all sin. Sinful acts are the product of the selfish heart. This commandment speaks against the root of sin, and therefore against all sin.

He goes on to note that we should not pit the narrow and the broad meanings of the Ten Commandments against each other. I find this approach helpful, even if I may not agree with his interpretation of every commandment.

For instance, I disagree with his interpretation of the fourth commandment, although our respective positions are a lot closer than I expected them to be. He does argue that Sunday is the Christian Sabbath, along much the same lines as I do. He does argue that normal work that is not necessary is forbidden. And even where we differ (on the recreation clause and our respective interpretations of Isaiah 58:13), Frame has not only thought about the issues, but has provided argumentation. He does not cavalierly dismiss the Puritan view, but takes it seriously, unlike so many candidates for ministry today. This book will make you think, and Frame is clearly in his element in this book. I would therefore recommend it.

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