Tripping on Scripture (Bruce Baugus)

Humans are amazing pattern finders. We detect patterns everywhere in the world around us: contorted faces in the wood grain, mythical creatures in the clouds, phantom ailments in our aches and pains–there’s no end to the patterns our vibrant and active minds discover in the world around us.

Detecting and Projecting Patterns

The curious thing is that many of those patterns are not really there, not in the things themselves in the same way that the pattern or form (in philosophical jargon) tree is in the massive pine specimen in my front yard or even the way the moonlit sky is in Van Gogh’s The Starry Night. This is because the face in the wood grain and griffin in the clouds is a projection of our mind–something we impose on the raw material of reality.

The grain in the wood is certainly there and is given to the mind in all its particularity. That particularity is telling too. A dendrologist can discern not only what kind of tree it came from but how old it was, which way it faced, how many fires or hurricanes it endured, and so on. There is much for science to ponder and sort out in the wood’s grain.

That same particularity, however, becomes the imagination’s fertile field as our pattern-detecting minds turn to it. If the grain of the wood were not just as it is, and if the plank had not been cut and planed and erected just as it is, then our minds would never see that eerily drawn out Munchian face. The wooden plank is not an empty canvas and the face we see in the grain is both there–ready for us to see; seemingly impossible to un-see–and yet it is not really there at all. There is nothing for dendrology in that face; there is a great deal for the artistry of our pattern-projecting imaginations, however, and perhaps also for psychology’s interest in this imaginative knack we have.

The Problem with Projecting

If we swap out the wood grain for the text of Scripture the exegetical problem becomes clear. Responsible exegetes and biblical theologians devote…

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All the Hell You Shall Ever Have (Nick Batzig)

For the better part of my Christian life, I’ve had a visceral reaction–driven by internal disapproval–whenever I’ve heard someone describe the hardships he or she experienced in life in the following ways: “It was like hell on earth,” or “I feel like I’ve been through hell.” I am sure that part of this reaction is due, in large part, to the fact I was raised in a home in which the awful reality of eternal destruction was not joked about or diminished (as it ought not be!). Therefore, in my mind, to correlate the miseries of this life with eternal punishment always struck me as a trivializing of the worst kind. Then, I read the following in Thomas Brooks’ The Mute Christian Under the Smarting Rod:”Consider, that the trials and troubles, the calamities and miseries, the crosses and losses that you meet with in this world, are all the hell that you shall ever have: here you have your hell, hereafter you shall have your heaven; this is the worst of your condition, the best is to come. Lazarus had his hell first, his heaven last; but Dives (the rich man) had his heaven first, and his hell at last (Luke 16:19-31): you have all your pangs, and pains, and throes here that you shall ever have; your ease, and rest, and pleasure is to come: here you have all your bitter, your sweet is to come: here you have your sorrows, your joys are to come: here you have all your winter-nights, your summer-days are to come; here you have your passion-week, your ascension day is to come: here you have your evil things, your good things are to come: death will put a period to all your sins, and to all thy sufferings, and it will be an inlet to those joys, delights, and contents that shall never have an end; and therefore hold thy peace, and be silent before the Lord.”1There is a sense in which it is right and good for us to speak of the miseries of life as a “the only hell” a true Christian will ever have. Consider what the Westminster Shorter Catechism has to say about the …

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Broken Pieces and the God Who Mends Them (William Boekestein.)

Lois Lowry tells a story about how a utopian state required that all of the community’s memories going back through the generations be committed to a single person, a receiver. The elders engineered a society where no one but the receiver had to feel or remember. Life was safe and comfortable. The citizens were spared the pain of knowing, of emoting. And they could always call on the receiver when faced with a decision that exceeded their self-imposed limited experience.

Lowry’s The Giver makes sense to me. She understands the Preacher. “For in much wisdom is much grief, and he who increases in knowledge increases sorrow” (Eccl. 1:18). I agree. There are some stories I don’t want to know. Some pictures relentlessly haunt.

This is why I didn’t want to read Simonetta Carr’s Broken Pieces and the God who Mends Them: Schizophrenia Through a Mother’s Eyes (P&R, 2019). I knew just enough of the story to know that it would rattle me vigorously. It did. As I read the book I felt like I was being asked to carry a tiny fraction of the burden Simonetta and her family bore–and it was still onerous.

But I also see the beauty of being part of a community where personal possession of painful knowledge is essential to burden-bearing. Lowry’s characters–to the extent that they could still reason without deep recall and feeling–believed that avoiding the pain of shared memory and emotion was an advantage. But the receiver knew that something basic to their humanity had been stolen from them. We need to feel even when we don’t want to. It is part of what makes us human, part of what made Jesus quintessentially human. When we give and receive sad–and happy–memories we affirm each other’s humanity. Being drawn into Simonetta’s living nightmare felt like being told, “I trust you with this memory. I want you to have part of my experience so that you will be more than you are.” Giving and receiving hard memories is beautifully symbiotic.

Broken Pieces is one of the most coura…

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Union with Christ is Everything (Joshua Steely)

As a missionary, my grandfather taught Greek and Hebrew at a seminary in Igbaja, Nigeria. He labored for years after on a cognate lexicon of New Testament Greek. Such interest in biblical languages may sound heady and high-brow, the sort of thing that wouldn’t have much connection with vibrant faith.

But nothing could be further from the truth. If you talked to my grandfather about Greek, you’d quickly learn that what he was most passionate about was what he referred to as the “identification truths”–the wide variety of Greek constructions that the New Testament uses to describe Christians’ connection with their Savior and Lord Jesus Christ.

Believers are “crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20, NIV), “raised with Christ” (Col. 3:1), “in Christ Jesus” (Php. 1:1), “baptized into Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:3), “sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:2), “circumcised by Christ” (Col. 2:11), and reconciled to God “through Christ” (2 Cor. 5:18). Christ’s disciples are related to Him as branches to the life-giving vine (Jn. 15:5). In Christ, believers receive “every spiritual blessing” (Eph. 1:3), including election (v.4), predestination (v.5), adoption (v.5), grace (v.6), redemption (v.7), and the sealing of the Holy Spirit (v.13).

This is just a sampling of the Scripture’s teaching on the significance of union with Christ for believers. Recent years have seen numerous books tracing and expounding this biblical theme, a renewed focus on what has always been at the heart of Christian faith: the saving relationship that Christians have with their Triune God and Savior, found in the Father’s gracious gift of union with the Son by the Spirit. This is core Christianity, in all its warmth and wonder and power.

Christian life is life in Christ. The wonderful truth about Christians’ union with Christ, and all that it means, is at the heart of Christianity spirituality. We can probe it in reverent exegesis of the Greek New Testament and we can embrace it with the childlike faith of ‘r…

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The Spirituality of the Church Speech (Nick Batzig)

Kevin DeYoung recently wrote a post about what has frequently been termed “the spirituality doctrine of the church.” I heartily commend this post to our readers, as it is quite a helpful introduction to the basics of Presbyterianism regarding the relationship between church and state. In that post, Kevin explains the significance of the Second Book of Discipline of the Church of Scotland–it being one of the foundational sources of the theological articulation of the spirituality of the church doctrine. The Second Book of Discipline was largely the product of the labors of Andrew Melville, John Knox’s successor. Melville’s name is often inseparably linked to references to “the spirituality doctrine of the church”–both on account of his contributions to the Second Book of Discipline as well as on account of a well documented interaction that he had with King James in September of 1596. It is this interaction to which I wish to briefly turn our attention.

With news of an impending Spanish invasion, King James VI of Scotland (later King James I of England) had given orders to the ministers throughout Scotland to charge their members to “take up arms, provide supplies and meet mediated attacks.” Additionally, he relayed his desire to bring back certain Roman Catholic officials who would reestablish their presence and assert their authority over the churches. After an uproar among the people at the reception of the King’s resolutions, a number of ministers forged a private meeting with the King and express their concerns. Among them was James Melville, Andrew Melville’s nephew. The group of invited ministers had agreed that James Melville would be the best person to address the King “because of his courteous manner, and the favorable regard the King had shown him.” At a certain point in the meeting, however, Andrew Melville could no longer remain silent and–despite attempts by his nephew to silence him–“seized the kings robe by the sleeve…termed him …

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The Unthinkable Sin (Joseph Randall)

One day I had the opportunity to preach with John Barros outside of an abortion mill in Orlando. In the message I preached, I made the point that I am also a murderer because Jesus said: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:21-22). After I finished, John cautioned me not to use this kind of argument because, though it is true, it can, inadvertently undermine the gravity and seriousness of the sin those heading to the abortion clinic were about to commit. I was, to some extent, downplaying the teaching of Scripture regarding the degrees of the severity of sin.

Most Christians are familiar with the unpardonable sin which Jesus speaks of in the Gospels: “…the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” (Luke 12:10). The fact that an unpardonable sin even exists is evidence that some sins are more evil than others. During Jesus’ trail in which He was unjustly condemned, He taught us that there are greater degrees of sin. Jesus said to Pilate: “…he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” (John 19:11).

The Unthinkable Sin That Never Entered God’s Mind

There is not only an unpardonable sin in the Bible, there is also an unthinkable sin in the Bible. There is only one kind of sin that is so evil, so wicked, and so unbelievably horrific that the Bible says it never even entered into the mind of God. This is the sin of parents murdering their sons and daughters. The Prophet Jeremiah speaks of this sin three times:

“For the sons of Judah have done evil in my sight, declares the LORD. They have set their detestable things in the house that is called by my name, to defile it. And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is …

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A Call for Gospel Centered Preaching (Stephen Thomas Burch)

God saved me at a conference at which John Piper was speaking in Atlanta in 2001. Through his public ministry, Dr. Piper has been one of the most influential men in my life. Last month, he wrote a post, Should We ‘Make a Beeline to the Cross’?
A Caution for Gospel Centered Preaching, in which he raised a caution about “gospel-centered” preaching. I have concerns about how many might misunderstand or misuse this post. It is probable that John Piper agrees with much or most of what will follow, therefore, this should be received as more of an addition to the discussion than a rebuttal.  Piper’s intentions in his post are not altogether clear. The post contains enough qualifiers or nuance to leave me with the following questions: Does John Piper believe it is appropriate to have sermons with no gospel in them or not cross in them? Is he advocating for sermons that do not have the cross in them if the text does not specifically mention the cross? Is he advocating for sermons that do not have Christ in them if the chosen text does not specifically mention Christ?  Prior to considering what the Scripture teaches about preaching the cross, I want to start with some points of agreement with truths that Piper affirms in his post. First, no text of Scripture should be treated quickly or superficially. Second, We should not give a mere nod to any portion of Scripture. Third, all Scripture is God breathed and profitable that the man of God may be complete. Fourth, we must declare the whole counsel of God.That being said, I believe that every sermon should contain the person of Christ and the gospel of Christ. Central to the gospel is Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sin. Here are 12 arguments in defense of this thesis.

1. Like Piper, I could not find a source for the beeline quote many have attributed to Spurgeon. However, a cursory reading of Spurgeon’s sermons reveal his great love for preaching Christ and Him crucified with incessa…

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What Will They Do When I’m Gone? (Matt Holst)

This morning I was reading a well-written and edifying article about cancer, the sovereignty of God and facing the reality of an uncertain future (humanly speaking). I think most parents have, at some time, gone through this thought process: what will happen to my children if something happens to me?

We can plan, and we should plan, for such eventualities, both spiritually and materially. I have life insurance for myself and my wife; we are working on finding guardians for our children should both of us die. Our financial plans are in place, more or less. Material planning is so very important. It is not, however, as important as spiritual planning for our children and loved ones.

I frequently speak of death and resurrection to our children, indeed in family worship last night, the subject came up again. I hope, by the drip-drip of teaching on death, resurrection and eternal life my children will become accustomed to the idea of all three realities. My third son, already, tells me he wants to be in heaven already. I also prepare my boys for the eventuality of my passing, or my wife’s passing. We have told them about both material and spiritual needs and how they will be met by God.

I do wonder how they will fair if God calls me and or my wife home. I have fears for them. Will the be looked after? Will they walk with the Lord? Will they trust him all their days? Will they be spared the sins and mistake I made? How will they cope with the loss of a parent?

The above article caused me to realize this important truth: my children’s need for God is greater than their need for me. That’s right. How could it not be? We believe in an almighty and sovereign God who “ordains whatsoever shall come to pass” – of course their need for God as their Heavenly Father, for Christ as their Savior and the Spirit as their Comforter is greater than their need for me! They need to see and believe that God, should He take me or my wife, is simply enacting a just, wise and righteous pl…

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Know When to Hold’em (Carlton Wynne)

As any poker player knows (and I am not a poker player–I tend to steer clear of competitions where the victor takes home a bracelet), the hand is over when all the cards have been dealt, all the bets have been called, the players’ cards are turned over and they reveal who has won the pot.The image of that poker moment came to mind in a discussion I once had with some church members about the role and value of ecclesial creeds for the Christian life, especially when it comes to meaningful theological exchange between two professing believers. I remembered a friend who resides in a church tradition that rejects any notion of creeds. He saw creeds as man’s conscious or unconscious attempts to bend Scripture to suit his own desires. Indulging another metaphor, I assured my friend that, although the historic creeds of the church are not infallible, they provide a deep theological stream of carefully articulated doctrines that have contributed through the years to unity, health and honesty in the church. I told him he was in the current of that stream whenever he claims that God is triune, that Christ is divine, that justification is by grace alone through faith alone, or when he claims any other orthodox tenet of belief.  And I warned him that to claim “No creed but the Bible” would, itself, be creedal, but, by comparison to the historical creedal stream of the church, his would be but a shallow and muddy ditch. It would be to show only some of his cards.  It would identify the basis for what he believes, but it would not reveal what his beliefs are.Creeds help us lay our theological cards on the table for all to see. They differentiate our hand from the hands of others around the theological table. They tell all who would look at our cards not only that our beliefs are grounded in the Bible, but that “these are the truths revealed in the Scriptures as the Word of God.” They tether our confession of Scripture to the content of Scripture. Th…

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The Underdog Must Win (Justin Poythress)

David and Goliath. Field of Dreams. Star Wars. Rocky. The Sandlot. The Hunger Games. Underdog stories never get old. We can’t help loving them. They also contain a distinctively American flavor, probably because this country only exists because the underdog triumphed. A few ragged colonies, against all odds, gained victory against the greatest world power of its time through an unrelenting commitment to values they would die for. Every American is brought up, from a young age, in such a way that his heart beats a little faster when he sees a scrappy underdog with a heart of gold fight back and conquer the faceless machinery of power perpetuating power.

This is in fact the story of the gospel. Jesus, God himself, came to earth in the humblest of forms to live his entire life in poverty, oppression, and institutional persecution. But hidden within Christ was the power of God almighty who, through the most dramatic turn of the tables in history, vindicated not merely Christ and his band of followers, but loosed the powers of the evil one over this entire world (I Jn 5:19).

Our current political and social climate wishes to champion the same values, but we have transposed the fight for inalienable rights of human liberty and representation to the inalienable rights of the underdog. The #Ibelieveher movement represents this impulse, (though trigger warnings flow from the same desire) which now crops up in every field and level of society. The righteous drive behind that particular hashtag battlecry is that women and their dignity, rights, and reputations have fallen prey to a system which advantages men in positions of power. This is a perfectly sound, Biblical complaint and cause. God takes his stand in judgment against those who wield their power and influence toward the end of selfish gain.

“The Lord will enter into judgment with the elders and princes of his people: ‘It is you who have devoured the vineyard, the spoil of the poor is in your houses. What do you mea…

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