The Devil’s Tennis Ball

If any of my readers have not seen this quotation by Thomas Watson, it is a real gem, and sounds shockingly modern (from The Godly Man’s Picture):

An idle person is the devil’s tennis ball, which he bandies up and down with temptation till at last the ball goes out of play.

With apologies to any tennis players out there (and maybe an apology to Shakespeare’s Henry V, which features tennis balls so prominently), this quotation blew me away when I first read it yesterday, quoted in the Reformation Heritage Study Bible on 2 Samuel 11 and the temptation of David. Of course, in the history of David, the author subtlely castigates David for staying at home when kings were supposed to go to war. Being idle was his first mistake.

Of course, Americans oftentimes have the opposite problem of being too busy that they have no time for meditation on God’s Word or prayer. Mere busyness is not a virtue, any more than mere idleness. If you are busy, be busy about the kingdom work. If you are resting, rest in order to sharpen your axe.

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The Appeal of Source Criticism

For those who have never been exposed to source criticism (you lucky dogs, you!), it is the attempt to find different sources in a given text. Sometimes, this enterprise is quite harmless. Finding out where Ronald Reagan got his quotes from during his Challenger Disaster speech can be fun and enlightening.

Sometimes, however, it is not quite so harmless. When scholars try to find four different sources in the Pentateuch (so-called J,E,D, and P sources, which stand for Jahwist, Elohist, Deuteronomistic, and Priestly), none of which are traced back to Moses, problems arise. The most serious problems have to do with applying an overly strict criteria for discerning the sources. For example, the so-called Jahwist and Elohist sources are so designated because the Jahwist used the name Jahweh for God, whereas the Elohist used the name Elohim for God. Are we seriously to believe that one author couldn’t possibly have used both names for God? Usually, this argument also depends on a manufactured contradiction between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, and the order of creation. The argument goes that the order of creation in chapter 1 is plants, animals, man, whereas in chapter 2, it is man, then plants. Keil and Delitzsch answered this argument well over a century ago, but no source critic has ever listened, seemingly. Chapter 2 is not talking about all plants, only cultivated plants. The reason of chapter 2 is quite clear: there are no “plants” because there was no rain, and because there was no man to till the ground. In fact, chapter 2 cannot possibly be talking about all plants, because most plants, in fact, do not need man to till the ground. Chapter 2 is simply saying that cultivated crops did not really get going until after the creation of the cultivator, namely, man. Therefore, there is no contradiction whatsoever between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2.

Another big problem with saying that basically nothing came from Moses is that Jesus said it did. The liberals will typically argue that Jesus was only saying what the people of the day said. That is quite a stretch. Jesus had no problem correcting the people when their notions were in error. On the question of who wrote the Pentateuch, why would we believe that Jesus wouldn’t have corrected the people on this important point? Isn’t it much simpler and easier just to say that Moses did, in fact, write it, and that Jesus and the people He talked to both believed it because it was true?

So, the distinction between the Jahwist and the Elohist is a manufactured one. The question I want to raise is this: what is the appeal of this kind of source criticism? A generous estimation would probably point to the desire to see the prehistory of the text. Where did it come from, and are there previous sources on which the writer relied? Of course, this is all speculation in the case of the Pentateuch, since no such sources actually exist in any recognizable form. For the historical books of the Kings and Chronicles, there are references to other works that are cited. It is debated whether these refer to sources of which we now know nothing, or whether they refer to sources that are already in the canon. If the former, then the Lord did not consider it vital for us to have those sources, for in God’s providence, we don’t have them (notice the free use of “God” and “Lord” in the same sentence there). If the latter, then it is simply a biblical version of footnotes!

However, there remains another much more negative possibility, one which I consider more likely as a general explanation (of which there could, of course, be exceptions). It could be that source critics desire to eliminate final contexts of specific statements so that the final authority of a given text is eradicated. A text without a context is a pretext. There are several reasons why I consider this more likely. Firstly, source criticism does have the effect of atomizing texts, fragmenting them into thousands of tiny contextless pieces. Secondly, source critics almost never give the editor any credit for meaning anything. Usually some form of stupid redactor is implied. Thirdly, a very woodenly literal hermeneutic is applied in order to “see” the fractures. If, however, a different hermeneutic is employed, no fractures exist at all. Fourthly, source criticism comes almost entirely from a liberal set of assumptions: the non-inerrancy of Scripture, the cultural relativity (and therefore non-abiding nature of its authority) of Scripture, and the position of man as judge over Scripture instead of vice versa. Fifthly, it is quite suspicious that the more foundational a text is to Christian theology, the more likely it is to be shredded to pieces by the source critics. The prime examples are the Pentateuch, Isaiah, and the Synoptic Gospels.

It is important to note here that not all those of a liberal or moderately liberal persuasion are in favor of source criticism. There are a few Brevard Childses out there, who advocate studying the text in its final, canonical form. Also, in more recent years, rhetorical and literary criticism has become far more popular and influential (and far more productive, too, in my opinion, in the realm of theology). I had hoped that the Documentary Hypothesis was on the wane, even in liberal circles. But it is still quite alive and well, and even assumed in many liberal quarters. This author, at least, hopes that it dies soon.

Faith In

Geerhardus Vos has some careful and precise thoughts about the various formulations in the New Testament (Reformed Dogmatics IV, pp. 80-81):

Usually, however, faith is presented as something that is directed to the Mediator, Christ. It is called “believing in Christ” (πιστεύειν εἰς Χριστόν)- actually, “into Christ” (cf. Rom 10:14). That is, the action of the soul by which it abandons its own doing and relies on the doing of Christ is presented as a local movement of the will into Christ. There is a relocation of the resting point of life. Where it formerly lay in the self-righteous sinner himself, it now comes to lie in Christ. It is also called “believing in Christ” (πιστεύειν ἐν Χριστῷ). The thought here is not so much of a movement into Christ as of its result, “resting in Christ” (Gal 3:26). Also occurring is πιστεύειν ἐπ’ αὐτῷ, “believing in Him” (Rom 9:33; 10:11, in a citation from the Septuagint of Isa 28:16), which has approximately the same meaning as εἰς Χριστόν. Finally, the apostle also speaks of a “faith of Jesus Christ” (πίστις Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ) with the objective genitive-thus a faith of which Christ as mediator is the object, a trust by which one depends on Him (Rom 3:22, 26; Gal 2:16; 3:22).

I think especially important here is the nuance of the formulation “believing into Christ.” It is a change of address. What so many Christians talk about so much is “Christ living in me,” or “asking Jesus into your heart.” The Bible does speak of Christ living in us, though never of “asking Jesus into your heart.” The Bible speaks a thousand times more often of us believing into Jesus Christ.

The Fear of Man Versus the Fear of God

Most Christians have probably heard something about the fear of man and the fear of God. However, many Christians fail to see when they do not have the proper perspective on what they do. The fear of man is insidious, creepy, and sneaky. It can disguise itself in many ways, and people rationalize it in many ways. Carl Trueman has talked about one form of it in terms of conferences: only the best-known names get invited, and they get invited again, and again, and again. Why is this? Is it simple marketeering? Or is there a fear of man involved, in the sense that organizers think that only well-known names will be convincing. Where did the Holy Spirit go, I wonder?

Reasonably mature Christians will know that the fear of God, being the beginning of wisdom, constitutes a proper awe and reverence for the Lord God. However, what even mature Christians often forget is that the fear of man and the fear of God are on a teeter-totter. Austrian economics helps explain how wealth is created much better than Keynesian economics (in my opinion), but when it comes to the fear of man and the fear of God, it is a zero-sum game. As one goes up, the other goes down.

It seems to me that the more important a person becomes, the more famous, the more well-known, the wealthier, and the better placed, the temptations of the fear of man grow exponentially. Power is intoxicating, in whatever form one has it, and people who acquire this kind of power and respect become very loath to risk it in any way whatsoever.

In the Reformed world, this kind of respect comes from publishing a book, or becoming a professor at a seminary, or having a prominent position in the denomination, or having a large church. It is easy to forget how eminently expendable we are, and instead start to think (even if it is not as crassly put as this) how lucky God is to have us around.

The rubber really hits the road when these famous gurus are tempted to moderate their theological views for the sake of political expediency. If someone is just moderate enough, then he can win yet more influence. It can be rationalized by saying that we will still try to pull people over to the more conservative side by thus appearing more moderate. The only pulling that results, however, is toward the liberal side. Once we have begun to abandon our convictions, the game is up, and we have lost any ground that we thought to have gained.

What we really need is a return to the fear of God. Does God care more for how influential we are or how faithful we are? Do remember that Jeremiah, for instance, was told that no one would listen to him, but he should go anyway. How many of our gurus would be willing to go somewhere and preach if they were told that their message would pretty much automatically be rejected? Do we fear God at all? Or do we really fear man, and thus trust in our resources?

I say all of these things first and foremost to warn myself. I feel the pull of these things. I have never been a very good political operative. The joke about my family is that we aren’t precisely good material for the diplomatic corp. However, I do not relish conflict. Some of my readers will guffaw at this point, reading these words on a blog that has been known for debate since its inception. However, I have always been able to keep distinct in my mind debate from conflict. Debate is about issues, whereas conflict often has personalities getting involved, and tempers flaring, which I most certainly do not relish. Debate is often fun and as long as people stick to the issues and the logical arguments for and against, it can be helpful.

The thing about the fear of man is that it also tempts us to rather severe forms of narcissism. On that subject see this post I wrote about a year ago. The fear of man is what drives us to react in narcissistic ways both to praise and to criticism, things which ministers, in particular, get by the ream. A constant return to the fear of the Lord is a healthy antidote both to the fear of man, and to narcissism.

What’d J’ya Say God?

[by reed depace; from our church’s new website blog.]

So this has probably crossed your mind before:

• Does God still speak to people?
• If so, how?
• When that little voice speaks in my head, is that the Spirit?

Whatd jya say God.PNG

As always, we can only answer these kinds of questions by asking God Himself. You best friend’s grandmom’s neighbor’s cat’s opinion might be better than mine, but it is still just opinion. If we want truth, especially about God Himself, we need to ask God to speak for Himself.

Assume for a minute you believe the Bible is God speaking for Himself. (If you don’t believe this, I’ll be happy to show you how the Bible says this is true.) Hebrews 1:1-2 tells us that while God may have spoken through a little old lady’s cat in times past (and in a host of other unusual ways), He does not do that anymore.

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Heb 1:1-2 ESV)

Can God speak through dreams, visions, wet fleeces, sticks turning into snakes, yada, yada, yada? Of course! Who can deny God doing what He wants? But as this passage expressly states, He does NOT do that anymore, not since He has spoken through His Son Jesus.

Now the theology wrapped up in Hebrews 1:2 is deep and wide and goes a long way toward giving us confidence to not make a pilgrimage to look at a piece of burnt toast with the (supposed) image of Jesus on it. It is sufficient here for us to observe that Jesus Himself says that He speaks today only through the Bible.

So, using this as our starting point, let’s ask the particular question: does God still speak to us, personally, through the Bible?

Hebrews 4:12 gives a compelling answer: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb 4:12)

It doesn’t get any more personal than the division of soul and spirit, speaking to us at the deepest and most intimate of levels in our being. Yes, God still speaks to us, even personally, but again, only through His word, the Bible.

Now there are lots of other passages in Scripture that also teach this. (One of my favorites is Jesus’ promise that His sheep actually do hear His voice, John 10:27.) And the doctrine of illumination does tell us that this speech is by the Spirit and at the deepest, most intimate of levels in our beings (1 Corinthians 2:7-14).

Yet in spite of this promise, this guarantee, we still have that niggling little question in the back of our minds, “how does the Spirit do this?”

The Bible is amazingly silent on that question. (I think this is related to our idolatry of our own abilities and what we’d do with the details of the how-answer, but that is a subject for another post.) We simply cannot go into too much detail, lest we end up in error, and get even more confused. Or worse, we end up identifying the Spirit speaking through a means He does not, and actually begin listening to the Enemy.

From Scriptures, what we can say is this:

• God does speak personally to His children.
• They can recognize that He is speaking to them.
• It is the Spirit who does the speaking.
• He always and only speaks to us consistent with the written record found in Scripture.
• He always speaks in a manner that increases our repentance and strengthens our faith.
• He always speaks those things which convict us of sin, convince us of Jesus sufficiency, and conform us to growing in Christlikeness.

And yet again, this still leaves us a bit murky about exactly how the Spirit does this. That can be a bit frustrating. While I can’t give you any “thus saith the Lord!” I can offer two biblically informed illustrations that may help you put a bit more faith into God’s personal speaking to you through the Bible.

First, consider the four faculties of the soul: mental (thinking), emotional (feeling), conscience (judging), and will (choosing). These are not separate functions but integrated capacities that are always working in conjunction with one another. Given that the Bible is itself in a form that interacts with our soul’s faculties, and given that the Bible says the Spirit speaks the Bible intimately into our souls, we are safe to observe that in some manner the Spirit’s speaking the Bible into us is received by us in our souls. This eliminates the “audible voice” expectation, as well as a host of other unusual “coincidences” that many of us still rely on. (I still get a kick out of Christians who, when something bad happens, say, “Uh oh, bad things always come in threes.” Talk about a messed up way of hearing from God. :P )

Second, consider the idea that we can tell the Spirit’s speaking by the results, the evidence left behind. To understand this better let me draw your attention briefly to the Large Hardon Collider in Cern, Switzerland (you may have heard about this related to something called the “God particle”). This thing is an atomic accelerator. Scientists use it to discover and describe sub-atomic particles. The interesting thing is that they do not have instruments that are able to see these sub-atomic particles. Instead of examining the particles directly, using this accelerator they crash atoms into each other at very high speeds.

atom crashing

The resulting collisions, like a car accident, send these unsee-able particles careening off in all directions. As the particle fly off they hit other atoms in the air around them, causing them damage. Like an accident investigator, the scientists then can measure the nature and shape of the unseen sub-atomic particles by the effects they had on the seen atoms they damaged.

This is in part how we can identify that the Spirit has indeed spoken to us, by the results, the effects of His speaking the Bible into us. Jesus says we will know the credibility of someone else’s relationship with Him by the fruits of that relationship (Matthew 7:16-20). This applies to looking at ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5; Proverbs 26:2; Galatians 6:4;1 John 3:20-21, and other passages). The fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) are expressly the good results, the dramatic changes that take place in our life, as a result of His speaking the Bible into us. These are the seen evidences of the unseen speaking of the Spirit.

But still, what about that voice we hear in the back of our heads? What is that?! Pulling these two illustrations together, here is what I think happens.

Consider that it is a common experience for people to have an inner voice. This is a normal function of our soul, usually assigned to our consciences (think about the picture of the little angel and devil, sitting on either shoulder, whispering into your ears). This is universal, common to all mankind, so much so that people with defects in their inner voice are identified as mentally ill: schizophrenia, people with more than one inner voice; bi-polar, two opposing inner voices; sociopaths, people with no inner voice. Such folks have defects in their soul’s faculties.

So, considering that the inner voice is a common experience to all mankind, and that Christians find this inner voice increasingly sounding like the Bible, what I think is going on is this:

• The Spirit “speaks” to us in a spiritual manner that the Bible does not describe.
• He does so through the Bible itself.
• He uses secondary means (e.g., preaching, reading, listening), but these secondary means are not themselves His speaking.
• We do not “hear” His voice directly, either through our physical bodies or our immaterial souls.
• Rather, we see the results of His speaking.
• And the first result, is changes wrought in our souls.
• That is, the Spirit speaks the Bible to our souls, and we experience the results of that speech.
• The inner voice we hear and wonder, “Is that God speaking?” is our own inner voice, evidencing the changes produced by
the Spirit’s speaking the Bible into us.

In other words we can tell the Spirit speaks to us to the degree our inner voice echoes the Bible. As the Spirit speaks the Bible to us, into our souls, we find ourselves increasingly:

• Thinking the way the Bible says we should think,
• Feeling the way the Bible says we should feel,
• Judging the way the Bible says we should judge, and
• Choosing the way the Bible says we should choose.

These are first-order, or immediate fruits of the Spirit’s speech into us, evidences that He has indeed spoken.

So we must be careful when talking about our inner voice and the Spirit’s speaking to us. The Bible tells us that the inner voice IS NOT the voice of the Spirit. Instead, the inner voice, as it grows more and more to echo, to repeat what the Bible says, is evidence to us that the Spirit truly has spoken to us.

This is a great encouragement. I know the Spirit will speak to me, personally. I know He will use secondary means. I know whatever He says will always and only agree with what I see with my eyes and hear with my ears written in the Bible. And finally, I know that my soul, my spirit, will experience the results of His speech.

Now this does not call for us to adopt some form of Christian navel gazing, some form of mantra-induced emptying of our thoughts so we can concentrate and not miss something the Spirit says to our inner voice. Instead it is a cause for great relief. I can relax, rest, and just take advantage of the ordinary means that I use in faith to participate with the promise of the Spirit’s speech.

• I can read my Bible;
• Use reading glasses when the words are too small;
• Take a break when I have a headache;
• Do a quick doodle on the edge of the bulletin when I’m starting to lose focus on what that long-winded preacher is saying;
• Prepare the notes for my next small group meeting, etc.,

And be assured, that though I’m like those scientists crashing atoms and can’t tell exactly how the Spirit is speaking, He will be speaking, and will leave behind the evidences, growth into the beauty and glory of the image of Jesus Christ.

• Here is another article emphasizing some of these points:
http://bit.ly/God-told-me
• Here is an excellent and short book particularly applying these points to how God reveals His personal will to us:
http://bit.ly/Ferguson_Gods-Will

If I can help with any other questions, don’t hesitate to ask. In the meantime:

Stop listening to the neighbor’s cat,

Cat mouth

Stop staring at your toaster waiting for the bread to be burnt just right.

Toasty Jesus

Go read your Bible!

by reed depace

Advice to Young People

James Montgomery Boice has some excellent advice to young people in his sermon series on the Minor Prophets (volume 2, p. 510). He identifies a major problem with young people today:

As I counsel with people in our day, many of them young people, I am convinced that one of their biggest problems is that they expect shortcuts. They want a simple principle that will explain all the Bible and eliminate the need for concentrated and prolonged Bible study. They want an experience that will set them on a new spiritual plateau and eliminate the need for hard climbing up the steep mountain paths of discipleship. They want a fellowship that has all the elements of a perfect heavenly fellowship without the work of building up those elements by their own hard work and active participation. This is not the way God has ordered things. He could have given shortcuts, but he has not.

To young people out there: there are no shortcuts. And if there are, they usually lead to long delays, as Pippin would say in The Fellowship of the Ring. Things are not going to be handed to you on a platter. Life is not something you can simply let happen to you. This is not a popular message in an age of instant gratification.

Young Christians often think this way as well. After the euphoria of conversion is passed, they often come to a hard shock: the Christian life is hard work! They often think that they didn’t sign up for this. As Pliable turns back in the Slough of Despond, the very first sign of trouble, so also do many today who call themselves Christians. However, as any seasoned Christian can tell you, conversion is the peace with God that starts the war on the world, the flesh, and the devil. In many ways, life is far more difficult after conversion than before.

Do not think of the Christian life as having shortcuts. Study your Bible thoroughly and deeply. Pray over it and meditate over it. Wrestle with God in prayer. Prepare for the Sabbath Day every single week, so that the Word will dwell richly in you. The Christian life is cumulative.