The Ultimate Blow to Seeker-Sensitive Worship

I just came across this quotation in my research for Sunday’s Romans sermon. It is from Sproul’s recent expository commentary on Romans, and it has to be the final nail in the coffin of seeker-sensitive worship. He says,

It is foolish to structure worship for unbelievers who are seeking after God when the Bible tells us there aren’t any seekers. It manifests a failure to understand the things of God. If we understood the things of God, we would know that there is no such thing as unconverted seekers. Thomas Aquinas was asked on one occasion why there seem to be non-Christians who are searching for God, when the Bible says no one seeks after God in an unconverted state.

Aquinas replied that we see people all around us who are feverishly seeking for purpose in their lives, pursuing happiness, and looking for relief from guilt to silence the pangs of conscience. We see people searching for the things that we know can be found only in Christ, but we make the gratuitous assumption that because they are seeking the benefits of God, they must therefore be seeking God. That is the very dilemma of fallen creatures: we want the things that only God can give us, but we do not want him. We want peace but not the Prince of Peace. We want purpose but not the sovereign purposes decreed by God. We want meaning found in ourselves but not in his rule over us. We see desperate people, and we assume they are seeking for God, but they are not seeking for God. I know that because God says so. No one seeks after God (pp. 89-90).

He is commenting on Romans 3:11, which says, “there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.”

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Help a Brother

A recent acquaintance of mine is selling a portion of his library. They are mostly Puritan volumes. Take a look, there are some real deals there, and some very rare works.

To Dust Ye Shall Return

[Editor’s Note: Recently discovered in an obscure (and very dusty) corner of the Princeton Theological Seminary library, the following anonymous manuscript reveals, with perhaps a soupcon of bitterness, the concern of a professor for his students’ well-being in a fallen world. While the date has been verified to within five years, judging by the depth of the dust in the corner, the hand is unrecognizable. It has been speculated that this document may be the transcript of a lecture, but the identity of the lecturer and/or writer currently remains unknown. – P. Britton, Research Assistant, GBU]

The Art and Science of Dusting One’s Theological Library

Given that it is every Christian’s noble calling to despise not the menial tasks of life, nor the hands that perform them (cf. Rom. 12:16), it is proper that we turn at this time to a long-neglected aspect of the divinity student’s education; to wit, the Art and Science of Dusting One’s Theological Library.

The urgency of this topic should be self-evident to anyone who has ever contemplated the potentially devastating effects of a prolonged absence from his place of study, whether on account of illness, accidents on the rails, or what have you; should, during such a providentially ordained delay, a well-meaning relation or domestic take it upon herself to Tidy Up, or, perchance, to Arrange Things, one’s peace of mind may be irrevocably shattered. It is partly to forestall such a crisis that I offer the following reflections.

What concerns us at the outset is, of course, the precise meaning of the verb, “to dust.” Whilst its lexical definitions may confound – for, as is well known, it can refer to either the application or the removal of a film of dust, as in, e.g., “dust the chicken with pepper” v. “dust the piano in the sitting room”* — here we must concentrate our attention wholly on the latter intent. However, let us not become tempted to limit ourselves unnecessarily to a narrow and technical understanding of the term, as if the wiping of surfaces were all that is in view. Even as in the case of the tithe, which in an earlier dispensation constituted but one-tenth of the firstfruits of the field or flock, and yet is, in the era of the Church, expanded to include all that the liberality of Spirit-led generosity might think to offer, so “to dust,” for the saint, may be considered to encompass more generally the setting of all of one’s possessions decently and in order (cf. 1 Cor. 14:40).

This would include, then, not only procuring a damp (not to say saturated) cloth and moving it assiduously across all planar surfaces,** but also the re-shelving of volumes used for the study of biblical texts at least six weeks prior to the present date, discarding unwanted blotters, apple cores, and mousetraps, and tending to the proliferation of note-papers, which protrude like whiskers from every crevice.

It is worthwhile to acknowledge at this juncture that while the “Art” of dusting one’s theological library involves the judicious arrangement of one’s collection according to one’s taste and needs (such that no intruder, however helpfully industrious, could ever approximate it), the “Science” of this undertaking is best described as “doing today what one would put off until tomorrow.” In his learned article on “The Sedimentation of Intellectual Debris,” Dr. Wharton warns strongly against the common clerical habit of “piling,” cautioning that haphazard towers of manuscripts, reference volumes and commentaries cannot defy gravity forever, and inevitably lead to more labor in the aggregate. Indeed, the denial of such physical realities is a regrettably docetic tendency in otherwise clear-thinking individuals; it is to be hoped that proper education along these lines will eventually counteract this trend.

In close, let me reiterate the wise counsel of the ancient writer, whose recognition that there is “a time to cast away stones and a time to gather stones together” (Eccl. 3:5a) surely reflects the experience of the reader of commentaries and the writer of sermons. May you, my students, take the time to gather not only your thoughts, but also your intellectual debris, as you proceed through your studies. And God bless you.

Princeton Theological Seminary, 1900

Notes:
*To say nothing of the colloquial expression, “I’ll ‘dust’ your britches if I catch you at the jam jar again,” which meaning is certainly not in view here.

** Eschewing entirely, of course, that Philistine arrangement of plumage known as the “feather duster,” which generally serves to re-apply, rather than remove, the dust in question.

A New Green Baggins

I have offered (and Paige has graciously accepted) a place on my blog’s editor team to Paige Britton. She has been contributing quite a bit to the blog recently, and has done some fantastic proof-editing for this year’s Confessional Presbyterian Journal, as well. She sent me her bio, which I reproduce here below. In the meantime, please give a warm welcome to her.

I grew up in the Washington, D.C. area, where I benefited from the youth ministry of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, MD (this is how come I know the brothers Hutchinson). I earned a BA in English from Haverford College (PA), and later an MEd in Special Education from Millersville University (PA). I have been married for 17 years to my best friend, Josh, who is a computer programming and math teacher at a public high school in our area. We have two kids, 12 and 7. Before my son was born, I was a public school teacher (1st and 2nd grades) in our town. Since becoming a mom I have remained at home, and we’ve home schooled from the beginning. We live in southern Lancaster County, PA.

Despite the influence of the 4th Pres youth programs and Chris Hutchinson’s friendship, I never really knew anything about the Reformed expression of the faith till about twelve years ago. I was struck by the message of God’s sovereignty in Romans, and realized I had to re-learn my Christianity from the ground up. Since I was the only Reformed person I knew (close by), I had to learn all of this from books and Modern Reformation. It turned out I had a good head for the study of theology and just plain loved it, so I kept going. After some years of this, I was given some unexpected opportunities to write on Reformed topics. Also, about four years ago we found it necessary — for wise, not theological, reasons — to leave the small local evangelical church we’d been a part of, and we gravitated up the street — again for wise, not theological, reasons — to Faith Reformed Presbyterian Church (PCA). That’s where we’ve settled; I help out as the coordinator for the Adult SS program, which means I make sure there are teachers each quarter and sometimes create curriculum for them. Josh offers his musical gifts, especially with the kids. My writing has appeared in Modern Reformation, the World Reformed Fellowship website (www.wrfnet.org), and most recently Beginning with Moses. I like to edit other people’s writing, too.

The Roman Communion – A Bird’s Eye View

Over at the Ref21 blog one of the contributors linked to an interview with Anglican Ray Galea, conducted by the folks at Matthias Media on Australia. (Thids was on the occasion of the curren Pope’s visti to Australia in 2008.)

Ray, raised in the Roman Communion, offered some insights on the differences between Rome and the Reformation heritage. Over this past year we’ve had a number of discussions with our Roman friends here at Green Baggins. Often the conversation ends up scattering into a myriad of loose ends. While a few of us may be profiting from the broad conversation, I suspect many are a tad bit confused at times. I think Ray’s interview provides some opportunity for some focus in these discussions. I recommend it both regular posters and lurkers.

Having myself been raised in the Roman Communion, I found his summary quite helpful. Even where an adherent of Rome might disagree with Ray’s observations, I believe he will agree that Ray is reasonable without falling into unnecessary argumentative exageration.

posted by Reed DePace

Not Masses of Help?

Paul Levy over at Ref21 has written (quoting Ray Galea) that sermons that become chapters in a book lose their life. He says: “He’s right isn’t he? We’re probably a bit afraid to admit it but those vast volumes of commentaries which are just transcribed sermons are often hard work and not masses of help in preparation apart from when hunting for illustrations or we’re very short of time.” I would certainly waive the point when it comes to plagiarism. Pastors MUST preach their own sermons to their congregations for the very simple reason that no one else knows their congregations like they do. Only the local pastor can bring home the text to THAT congregation.

However, I wish to address a different point here. He says, basically, that commentaries made up of sermons are not masses of help in sermon preparation. I cannot say that I agree with this statement. For one thing, there are very few commentaries period which could be said to be “masses of help.” The question is this: what are one’s expectations on using a commentary? I find a commentary to be somewhat helpful if I underline anything in two or three pages. If I underline one thing per page, it is a very helpful commentary. If I underline 3-4 things per page, then it is a massively helpful commentary. How many massively helpful commentaries do I own? Not many, and I own many commentaries. My point is that reading commentaries is not like hitting up Fort Knox for gold. It’s like looking for needles in haystacks (this can certainly be said for the entire scholarly enterprise). I have not found sermonic commentaries to be less helpful than the other types of commentaries. In preaching on Romans, for instance, I have found Boice and Lloyd-Jones to be very helpful, even though I don’t underline on every page. Anything Iain Duguid writes on the OT is massively helpful, and they pretty much ALL originated as sermons. I would not like to see pastors reading fewer commentaries as a result of Paul’s statement, however much he might have been addressing a different point.

Getting Serious About A New Reformation

I pastor a small, historic church in a small, historic city. Our city’s history is important in the history of our land, and our church’s history is important in the history of our city.

Yet our church has seen better days, at least from outward appearances. We were once the lead church in the capital of our state. In the 1920’s we had one Sunday school class led by a state Supreme Court justice that was over 1,200 strong – and that was just one Sunday school class. We were a mega church before there was a definition for “mega-church”.

Today however we average in the 80’s in attendance.

God called me to this church at the same time he led the elders to a clarified vision of what the future of our church should look like. He led our elders to the conviction that we needed to seek God’s renewal promise, the remembering, repenting and recovering that is his promise first voiced to the Church in Ephesus (cf., Rev 2:5). In a nutshell, the Spirit convicted us that we were in need of reformation.

And we’ve been busy these past two years seeking the Spirit to keep his renewal promise. Foundationally God led us to seek the help of Dr. Harry Reeder and his From Embers to a Flame ministry. (I highly recommend these folks. They are much more biblically sound than some of us confessional-oriented folks might think at first glance.)

A part of our efforts in the “remembering” process has been to look back to our heritage in the Reformation. For the last four years this has meant holding a fellowship event (dinner, kids’ play, service activity, etc.) on Saturday night of Reformation weekend (last Saturday in October). Each year we build the festivities around one Church Father’s life and ministry. This year we celebrated John Knox. (Next year we’re celebrating Augustine.)

This year we were also blessed to add a preaching-teaching component to our Reformation Celebration. We invited Dr. R. Fowler White, VP of Academic Affairs for Ligonier Academy, and a regular contributor here, to come and speak to us. He and his wife drove from Orlando and spent Saturday and Sunday with us. Dr. White preached/taught four times for us, twice on Saturday and twice on Sunday.

Dr. White’s topic was the Holy Spirit’s use of the means of grace in the life of the Church. As you’ve studied the Reformation you’ll recognize the significance of this subject. For our church this topic has become a touchstone for our own reformation. Eschewing the means of man to grow churches, we’re returning to a simple reliance on the means of grace for the Spirit’s restoration of spiritual health. So while this is not an unfamiliar topic for us, it was an exciting expectation to see our understanding of how the Spirit keeps the renewal promise deepen.

And we were not disappointed.

I recommend to y’all, for your own and your church’s edification, Dr. White’s four sessions, which can be found here. Scroll down one full page length and look for the banner-title “Reformation Celebration Conference.” Each of the four sessions are linked there, with each preceded by a summary explanation of the session. (Note: a technical malfunction cut off the last point of Dr. White’s presentation in the second session. The summary paragraph highlights this last point.)

Given my current level of education and personal study it is usually the case that when I attend a conference oriented to the average layman I hear foundational points I already know repeated. This is not bad, as I tend to be one of those butter knives that still needs the file sharpening of repetition. Yet it is rare in such a conference that I hear anything so striking that it significantly advances my own understanding.

In the first session Dr. White gave an extended introduction to the whole series. In it he brought a biblical-theological focus to the question of the central message of the Bible, that while not all alone in its newness, nevertheless re-expressed seminal insights in a new and compelling formula. I won’t claim Dr. White is saying something that has never been said before. I will simply observe that when he was making the case for his point I experienced one of those moments where the Spirit opened the channels of my mind to be flooded with a fullness of the biblical background. It may not be new to some of you, yet this observation alone makes listening to Dr. White’s talks worth the time.

I am increasingly convicted that the Church in America is experiencing the same kinds of spiritual ills that were common in the Church right before the Reformation, indeed that were common in the OT Church right before our Savior’s advent. I expect more and more of you share this same conviction. (Sunday night Dr. Reeder summarized these as: 1) Biblical illiteracy, 2) spiritual impotency, 3) compromised leadership, 4) devaluation of the word, and 5) devaluation of word-ministry, preaching.)

The Reformation was not the history-changing eveny that it was because of one or two big men with one or two big ideas. No doubt the Reformation would never have been what it was without Luther and Calvin. Yet the real strength of the Reformation was not that the Spirit was poured out on a few, but on the many.

I want to challenge you to not fall prey to the “key man” fallacy, the idea that if anything big is going to happen we need to see a key leader arise. We already have that Key Leader immediately present by his Spirit. Instead, I challenge you to take serious God’s renewal promise and began stepping out in faith. Seek it first for your own life and your own family. Then seek it in your church. The Spirit who was so richly and abundantly poured out on Europe during the Reformation has not been exhausted. There is still infinitely plenty left of him to be poured out on us for our Reformation.

Let’s get serious about seeking a new reformation.

Posted by Reed DePace

Ghosties Post-Halloween (update)

Following up on my previous post about whether or not ghosts (disembodied souls of the dead) are real, one of our regular posters here (Hi Paige) did a wonderful job of partnering with me to re-write and expand this post into an article.

You will find it posted here. FWIW.

posted by Reed DePace

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