Shortened Version

A wonderful biography of Jonathan Edwards just got shortened into a more popular version by the same author. The author is one of the foremost Edwards scholars in the world.

Denominational Renewal? Part 1

Posted by Bob Mattes

Apparently, there was a small Denominational Renewal conference back in February. Not many noticed, so someone decided to have a blog conversation based on the original talks in February. Some noteworthy PCA figures have accepted the invitation to respond to the talks one at at time between Sept 15 and Oct 17, with one week dedicated to each presentation. Each week’s responses include one individual deemed sympathetic to the talk, one critical, one minority/woman, and one from outside the PCA. Others may respond to these posts on the blog site.

One warning about the Common Grounds site. Comments are processed using a cross-domain script. These are dangerous and typically used to hijack browsers, plan malware on sites, or steal personal information. In order to post with a secure browser like Firefox with NoScript active, you’ll have to disable XSS protection in NoScript to register that comment on the site. The fact that I did so speaks volumes on my loyalty to the PCA. This is a poor setup by the Common Grounds folks, and dangerous to your browsing security. They should eliminate the redirection script. You’ve been warned. And don’t forget to reenable XSS protection after your comment has been accepted.

This week’s topic is “Renewing Ethos” by Greg Thompson. If you’re wondering what a “Renewing Ethos” might be, so am I after listening to the talk. I posted a comment on the latest post asking a number of questions about TE Thompson’s talk requesting some clarity. The site there doesn’t seem all that active, so I’m posting my comment here verbatim in the interest of starting perhaps a wider discussion on a more popular theology site. Before reading further, I encourage you to listen to the series introduction, listen to the first talk and read the posts by the major players. Without at least listening to the original presentation (which runs about 30 minutes), my comments will be out of context because I do not directly recapitulate his talk in my comment:

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New Book on Grace and Regeneration

Well, okay, so it’s an old book newly translated. Shoot me (pardon the pun with the recent posts!). Now, we have a very full access to this Dutch writer’s works.

Firearms, theology, and fantasy

Posted by Bob Mattes

Lane asked Are Guns Inherently Against Life? in response to Lance Lewis’ post Pro Life and Pro Glock? Lane did an excellent job in his post, as did many of the commenters under it. My purpose here is to address specific statements by Lewis in his post in which I have particular insight. [As I got about half-way through this post, I realized that to answer all of Lewis’ nonsense would take too long. So, I’ve been somewhat selective in what I address. Commenters to Lane’s post have done a nice job with other issues.] Let’s start by laying out the players.

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New Book Coming Out On the Law of Moses

I know the author fairly well, and can attest that he loves the law of the Lord, and yet recognizes both continuity and discontinuity in the application of the law from the OT to the NT. Should be a very interesting book.

Commentaries on Leviticus

Leviticus is a very difficult book to read. Eyes glaze over with alarming frequency. All the more important, then, to have a good selection of commentaries that explain the text, pointing us to Christ all the way. At the top of any Reformed person’s list should be Currid, Bonar, Wenham, and Hess. This new commentary looks interesting, as there are not many commentaries on the text coming from a theological perspective. Students of the text should also have the new AOTC commentary, as well as the Jewish commentary of Levine. A hint to WTS bookstore: they really should carry Milgrom, which is undoubtedly the very best Jewish commentary in existence, and certainly the most thorough commentary on the book ever written. Hartley is excellent as well, and one should not forget Gane and Tidball for preaching.

Are Guns Inherently Against Life?

Rev. Lance Lewis of Philadelphia (ordained in the PCA) has written an interesting post here about the subject. His conclusion is that “it is time for us to realize that we cannot be both pro-life and pro-gun.” However, there is an inherent ambiguity in his target (if you’ll pardon the pun). Is he talking only about handguns, or about guns in general? In most of the article, he seems to have handguns as his target, but then at the end of the article, he seems to include all guns. This is problematic, as rifles and shotguns are usually used for hunting animals these days. In fact, contrary to Rev. Lewis’s assertion (“The handguns manufactured and sold in this country today are designed and built for one purpose and one purpose only; namely the destruction of human life”), handguns are used for hunting animals, and are also used for recreational target-practice (i.e., simply for fun).

The next problematic assertion that Rev. Lewis makes is, in effect, that the second amendment has to do only with resisting government. Having artificially limited the scope of the second amendment to that, he uses a reductio ad absurdam to prove that citizens could not possibly defend themselves against the government. Therefore we should not have handguns. This does not follow. The second amendment cannot be limited to defense against the government. It also includes the right of a person to defend himself against attacks against his family. How many people today are even thinking consciously about defense against their government? The argument does not fit today’s situation.

The argument (not made by Rev. Lewis, but seemingly implied, and certainly used today all over the place by people wanting to restrict the use of handguns) that keeping people from guns will reduce crime is absolutely ludicrous. For one thing, criminals will always be able to get guns. Disarming the citizens will not prevent violence in the slightest. If anything, it will increase violence. If this argument were valid, then Switzerland, which requires its people to own guns, would have the highest crime rate in the world. Instead, it has one of the lowest. The same thing is true of Kennesaw, Georgia. Why does gun ownership decrease violent crime? One simple word: deterrence. I remember vividly one cartoon in World magazine where two criminals were high-tailing it away from a house, with the owner of the house firing a gun after them. The one criminal says to the other criminal, “Doesn’t he know how dangerous it is to own a gun?” The same thing was true of the Cold War. Having a nuclear arsenal, implementing MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) was an effective way to prevent a nuclear strike from the Russians.  Honestly, how many burglars would be willing to seek to burgle a house where he knew the owner not only kept a gun, but had training in how to use it? If I were a criminal, I would keep away from such houses, and instead prey on houses where I knew there would likely be no guns and no experience. You know, places like Philadelphia, Washington D.C, New York City.

So, completely contrary to Rev. Lewis’s assertion, pro-gun can actually be more pro-life than anti-life. And I personally resent the suggestion (I own three guns) that I am one iota less pro-life than Rev. Lewis is. Guns are not, and have never been, the problem. The problem is people and their sinful hearts. Gun control laws are a government-sponsored tyranny that simply cannot be messianic in its effect, since criminals get their guns from the black market anyway, so as to avoid the tracing. In short, there is very little logic in Rev. Lewis’s post.

The Wheat and the Weeds

Matthew 13:24-30-36-43


Audio Version

There are imposters in the church today. They masquerade as children of God. They often look like Christians, talk like Christians, and even oftentimes act like Christians. But inside they are not regenerated. They bear no fruit. It is often very difficult to tell them apart from the real Christians. In fact, such people may live their entire lives within the church and never really show that they are weeds instead of wheat. They can be very deceptive. Indeed, they can even deceive themselves. There are weeds among the wheat.

Jesus gives us a second parable with a farming metaphor. The parable of the seeds on the different soils leads into the parable of the wheat and the weeds. Indeed, the third soil (that of the weeds choking out the good soil) provides the immediate context for this parable, by saying that there are weeds among the wheat.

Jesus starts out by saying that the kingdom of heaven is like a man sowing wheat, and the devil planting weeds among the wheat. So, we notice right away that the parable is about the kingdom of God. This is extremely important, since there are some difficulties of interpretation regarding verse 38, which says that the field is the world. We will say more about that in a minute.

Jesus goes on to talk about two plantings. Jesus is the one who plants the first planting. He plants good seed, the wheat. The landowner’s servants indeed ask the Planter whether or not He sowed good seed. Of course He did. However, during the night, while the servants were asleep, the devil came and planted weeds. Now, some interpreters say that the fact that some were sleeping is showing that the servants were being lazy and should have been awake. However, I think that the more natural explanation is simply that there are periods of rest. It is not a blame-worthy rest here. Every farmer has to sleep or at least rest.

So, while the farmers are asleep, the devil comes and sows weeds. Almost all interpreters agree that the weed that was sown is darnel, which, as it grows up, looks quite a bit like wheat. Indeed, all the time until the wheat heads out, it is difficult to tell the difference. The size of the blade is very similar. This results in the weeds growing up together with the wheat. Eventually, and this is very important, the root system of the darnel becomes entangled with the root system of the wheat. That is why it would not be wise to pull out the weeds, since some of the wheat might also be pulled out. So the weeds are left until the judgment harvest, when all the weeds will be gathered and burned, whereas the wheat will be gathered into the storehouse.

What is important in the telling of the parable is verse 28. We always want to know who is responsible, who we can blame. And, of course, Satan is involved deeply with what is wrong with the world. We cannot use that fact to excuse ourselves. However, here we learn one of the main things that Satan does to seek to undermine the kingdom of God. He confuses things by sowing a weed among the wheat that looks just like the wheat.

And that brings us to the grace of God. God could have uprooted the whole field in order to get rid of the weeds. However, God exercises grace in this respect even on the weeds. He doesn’t pull them out, because that might hurt the wheat. The most amazing thing is that Satan may plant weeds, but God has the ability to change a weed into a stalk of wheat. That kind of change is possible when you look at the Holy Spirit, and what the Holy Spirit can do. If you are feeling like a weed, then you can pray that God would change your nature into a stalk of wheat, productive in the kingdom of God.

Jesus does a lot of explaining in verses 36-43. We learn about almost every detail in the passage. The first detail requires some explanation. Jesus says that the field is the world. Now, when I grew up, I thought that this parable was about the fact that the church has believers and unbelievers in it. But then many people pointed me to this verse, saying that the field is not the church, but the world. In other words, Christians and non-Christians exist side by side together in the world. Now, of course, both of these things are true. It is true that the church is mixed, and it is true that believers live alongside unbelievers in the world. But the question is this: what does the passage say? There are a couple of indications that the passage is actually saying both. Firstly, we see that Jesus did say that the parable was about the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is concerned about the church. That is where God rules most specifically. Of course, God rules over the whole world, but the term “kingdom of God” usually means the rule of Christ in the church. Secondly, the weeds are said to be sown among the wheat, not alongside the wheat. In other words, we don’t see a field of wheat, and then alongside but separate from that field, another field of weeds. What we see is the wheat and weeds all mixed up together. So here is what I have come to believe about this passage: the wheat and the weeds are mixed wherever they are, and that certainly includes the church. In fact, there aren’t very many believers outside the church. There are some, and we do not want to say that salvation is impossible outside the church. However, salvation is normally inside the church. When a person becomes a believer, then that believe is obligated to join with a local church. We need to be close to the other wheat.

The last part of Jesus’ explanation has to do with the final judgment. All the weeds will be burned, and all the wheat will be gathered. This judgment is real, and it could happen tomorrow. Look at the contrast in the final destination and state. Those who perish are those who cause sin and are guilty of lawlessness. They will be thrown into the blazing furnace, almost certainly a reference to the fiery furnace of Nebuchadnezzar, only a whole lot more so, and with a different person deciding who goes into it! God instead of Nebuchadnezzar decides who is thrown into the furnace. And He will be perfectly just. No one will go into that furnace who does not deserve to go into the furnace. Of course, everyone deserves to go into that furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. It is only because of God’s grace that there will be people who are righteous and will shine like the sun. We just heard about this, also from the book of Daniel. Daniel 12:3 says “Those who are wise will shine like the bright expanse of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” It is important to recognize here that both destinations are eternal. There is no temporary place of punishment, or temporary place of reward. And there is no going from one to the other after this life. This life is all there is for determination of who will shine, and who will burn. Therefore it is senseless to put off closing with Christ. How do we know when our lives will end, or when Christ will come back. No one should wager their eternal soul that they will be alive tomorrow. The price is too great if they are wrong about their guess. Much better to close with Christ today, right now, if you have not done so. Then there will be no fear of death, no fear of judgment. For God’s grace completely saves you from the wrath of God. This passage does not have to be scary to read. For those with any assurance of salvation at all, this passage is full of comfort, since we will be vindicated, and the wicked will receive their comeuppance. God will still leave some remnants of sin in our lives in order that we can know how much we must continually rely on his grace for holiness.

So what benefit do we have in knowing that the church is mixed? Well, we learn to be patient with one another. God does not rip out even the weeds, in general, but lets them grow in all their fruitlessness in the church. Now, this does not mean that we should ignore church discipline. Matthew 18 tells us that there are ways we can tell if a particular plant is a weed or a stalk of wheat. The distinguishing mark is repentance and a continual turning away from sin. If those things are not present, despite the fact of people going to them and calling on them to repent, then that person is to be put out of the church. However, just because a person sins, even gross sin, does not mean that they are weeds. After all, David the king of Israel, plainly a man after God’s own heart, murdered and committed adultery, and yet was a forgiven sinner. He repented of his sin and turned away from it. The Holy Spirit always brings the wheat to that place of repentance. So, therefore, we should be patient with our fellow believers. Oftentimes, we are quick to judge. We let one particular act of a person determine our opinion of them. That is wrong. We should assume the best of those in the church around us, while not being blind to the necessity of repentance and forgiveness. I think that our churches could do a better job of overlooking offenses committed against us. There are many small things that we blow up out of all proportion when we should in fact overlook and forget them. Furthermore, we make small sins into large sins. This usually stems from a proud heart that wants to assert its own rights. We think that if we are wronged, then we deserve a red carpet forgiveness. The person who wronged us should come to me on bended knee, and plead and beg and humiliate themselves in order to make things right with my royal highness. So, instead, we should be patient and longsuffering.

Secondly, we should not be either surprised or discouraged when we see the church do dumb things, or sinful things. The church has blemishes right now. Think of the Crusades. Yes, the Muslims attacked first, but people claiming the name of Christ did many horrible things. And that is not the only example. I think that many people think of the church as being a place where perfect people meet, rather than as being the hospital that it is.

Thirdly, and lastly, we should know that there is always a church of God. There are always those 7000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal, and that we have communion with them in Christ, and will have eternal communion with them in the new heavens and the new earth, when the righteous will shine like the sun. They are those who are declared righteous in justification, and made righteous in sanctification. However terrible the church seems at times, she is still the bride of Christ. And Christ will one day take away all blemishes, and we will see her true beauty revealed. So, we should value and cherish the church. As the Reformers and the early church fathers said, you cannot have God as your father without having the church as your mother. So, we should be patient with each other, and we should not be surprised or discouraged at the blemishes of the church, and we should know that there is always a church of God. This is the message of the parable of the wheat and the weeds.

New Book on Creation in the Early Church Fathers

This book shows what the theology of the early church fathers was on the issue of creation. It looks very interesting.

Book on Worship

It seems to me that worship is very slip-shod these days. No preparation goes into the worship service, into the flow, into the prayer, into the Scripture reading. Maybe this book will help. My guess is that it would be the perfect book to help ruling elders as well as ministerial candidates have a more wholistic view of worship, and of the flow of worship.

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