Sunday, February 28, 2010

Commentary Sale

WTS Books is offering a sale on the Pillar New Testament commentaries.  If you buy two or more you get 10% off each volume (and they're already discounted well below the cover price).  This is a good series with some really solid volumes.  I would particularly recommend Leon Morris on Matthew and Romans, D.A. Carson on John, David Peterson on Acts, and Douglas Moo on Colossians & Philemon and James.  Carson's volume in particular may be the best commentary I've found on John's Gospel.  You can see the details of the sale by clicking on the Hebrews volume.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Should we observe Lent?

I wrote this last Wednesday and hoped to get it up then but unfortunately I was having problems with this and couldn't get it on here so it's a little dated now. Hope it still helps a bit. I actually went to an Ash Wednesday Mass with a friend from work. I did not participate in the Imposition of Ashes or the Eucharist of course but it was rather interesting to see and a good chance to try to get an understanding about what our Catholic friends believe to try to start conversations about the biblical doctrines of salvation. Anyway, hope that this is still somewhat helpful even though it's dated.

Should We Observe Lent?
by Matthew Pickens

In modern American Protestant and Evangelical churches we are not accustomed to following ecclesiastical calendars. However since on February 17, 2010, we see many of our friends, neighbors, and co-workers with ash on their foreheads or have conversations about what they are giving up for the next forty days I thought it would be appropriate to take some time to consider the season of Lent.

According to Roman doctrine Lent is a 40-day period that begins on Ash Wednesday and concludes at midnight Easter morning. Sundays are not counted in this period because they are meant to be times to celebrate Jesus' resurrection from the dead. Lent is especially meant to be a time of penance and discipline. The Roman Church believes that ashes commonly refer to mourning in the Old Testament and so at the beginning of Lent ashes are mixed with oil and applied to the forehead as a reminder of sinfulness and need of Christ. Lent is a 40-day period because it is meant to recall the forty days that Jesus spent in the Wilderness fasting and being tempted by the devil. So during this period it is common practice to abstain from some pleasure as a way of fasting as Jesus did.

The problem with this observance of Lent is that it becomes a way of worshipping God that is not commanded in Scripture and so is a violation of the Second Commandment. The intent of the Commandment is that God may only be worshipped as he has explicitly authorized in his Word. Our Confession says:

the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture. (WCF 21.1)

Scripture does not authorize the use of ashes this way in worship. While Christ fasted for forty days in the Wilderness this is not a command for us to do so; though there are some other places in Scripture where we could turn regarding fasting in general. Though there is some precedent for an annual schedule of feasts and festivals in the Old Testament there is not warrant for jumping to the specific times and seasons of Roman or Eastern Orthodox ecclesiastical calendars. So I would argue that it is inappropriate to use these calendars for the public worship of God's people though there may still be some value in using it to remind ourselves of aspects of Christ's work at certain times during the year in our personal devotions (much the same way we might use a devotional book or a book of prayers like the Valley of Vision).

In this sense, what Lent does do is remind us of what Jesus accomplished for us. Matthew's account of Jesus' temptation (Matt. 4:1-11) focuses on Jesus' faithfulness contrasted with Israel's unfaithfulness. Each of the Old Testament passages that Jesus quotes to answer Satan's temptations are taken from the book of Deuteronomy (Matt. 4:4 and Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:7 and Deut. 6:16; Matt. 4:10 and Deut. 6:13). Specifically they are Moses reminding the people of how they did not trust the Lord and instead put his covenant faithfulness on trial in the Wilderness with the need for water and food. The purpose is to remind them that God has faithfully provided according to his covenant in the past and will continue to do so in the future. Jesus is faithful here where Israel fails. He believes God's promises to provide for him according to the covenant that proclaims he will reign forever on David's throne (2 Sam. 7:12-16).

Jesus' temptation in the Wilderness is recorded immediately after his baptism in all three Synoptic Gospels. Jesus is baptized to show that he acts as our covenant head and representative. When he is faithful and believes God's promises it is not only for his own sake but is also for all of us who are in union and fellowship with him. Matthew emphasizes this by immediately telling us that Jesus went into Galilee to announce the fulfillment of Old Testament promises of salvation and to command repentance and belief in the gospel (Matt. 4:12-17 and Isa. 9:1-6).

So while we cannot in good conscience participate in the ceremonies and circumstances of the Roman observance of Ash Wednesday and Lent we can still make use of it as an annual reminder that God has been, is, and will be faithful to all his covenant promises and he will do so because of the perfect obedience of Christ imputed to us. As Paul said, all promises of God find their yes in him (2 Cor. 1:20). We remember that Jesus endured temptation for us and we are righteous before God in him. We look forward to the promise of resurrection and eternal life with our Lord Jesus in heaven because God is faithful and Lent can be a helpful time of year to draw our attention to these promises. It is then also a chance to discuss what Jesus' temptation and obedience really means with our Roman Catholic friends.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

What does it mean to be "Reformed"?

There is some debate going on in our theological circles over what it means to be "Reformed." Scott Clark has offered up a confessional definition in his book, Recovering the Reformed Confession. John Frame offers a response in this review of Clark's work. Both are probably worth reading. When you read a mainly negative review it's usually important to also read the book under review to make sure that the reviewer rightly understood what the writer had to say.

In the interests of full disclosure I do tend to side more with Professor Frame on this issue than with Dr. Clark. I think that Clark makes some good points in his book though I question or disagree with a lot of his conclusions. That said, it does need to be emphasized that "Reformed" means more than just believing in the five points of Calvinism but involves a worldview and practice of how we "do church" that goes deeper. Anyway, I'm sure you'll see more on this from both men and in the blogosphere.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Where is God in the Earthquake?

Where is God in the earthquake?
By Matthew Pickens

Events like the recent 7.0 earthquake that occurred off the coast of Haiti raise a lot of questions about the sovereignty of God and human suffering. Most estimates place the number of dead between 50,000 and 100,000 and that number may continue to rise as relief efforts are hampered by the chaos in the area. How should Christians respond to such tragedies?

First, our attention should be drawn to the fact that while Christ’s great work of redemption has been accomplished it has not yet been perfected. Paul reminds us that the creation itself groans for the revealing of the children of God (Rom. 8:19). Tragedies like this earthquake remind us that this present world as polluted by the consequences of Adam’s sin is far short of the new heavens and the new earth to be revealed when Christ comes in glory and God himself will wipe away every tear from our eyes (Rev. 21:1-7).

Second, while we reject the comments made by Pat Robertson that this earthquake was God’s judgment on Haiti we do have to acknowledge that disasters like this are a sign of God’s final judgment for sins. Jesus points to events where unjust persecution or disaster should be understood as a warning of the true and perfect divine judgment that is to come (Luke 13:1-5). We should understand that even horrific disasters like what happened in Haiti work like the trumpets in revelation. The blast of the trumpet is not the judgment itself. But it calls out a warning that the judgment is coming and summons all men everywhere to repent.

Third, we have to remember that God is sovereign over the earthquake. God does not need us to defend him by making him less than perfectly sovereign over all things. Scripture clearly asserts God’s omniscience (Ps. 139; Heb. 4:11-13; Is. 46:10; 1 John 3:20), omnipotence (Ps. 115:3; Is. 14:24, 27; 46:10; 55:11; Luke 18:27), and absolute sovereignty (Rom. 11:33-36; 1 Tim. 6:15-16). We cannot say that this earthquake was something that God could not prevent or did not foreordain according to his perfect plan.

However it is exactly this point that ought to give us hope in the face of such tragedies! Because God works things out according to his plan we know that there is a good purpose to our pain even when we do not understand that purpose (Rom. 8:28). If God is not sovereign over the earthquake then there is no hope for one day when such disasters will never occur in the new heavens and the new earth. It is only because we believe in God’s sovereignty that we can trust that God has a good purpose for the evil that happens in this world. The proof of God’s goodness in the face of suffering is the cross of Jesus Christ. God ordained all that happens in this world but that means he ordained a world he would enter in human flesh and blood and personally suffer the consequences of sin. If God did not spare his own Son but gave him up for our salvation then we can be confident that he will also graciously give us all things (Rom. 8:32).

The prophet Jeremiah also once faced a situation that led him to question God’s goodness. Through the whole book of Lamentations he weeps over the horror he has witnessed. Yet right in the middle of his lament he calls to mind the faithfulness of God:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;they are new every morning;great is your faithfulness.“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,“therefore I will hope in him.” (Lam. 3:22-24)
So the way that we need to respond to the earthquake is to believe that God is good and to put our trust in him. Along with this we know that God’s message to the people of Haiti is to repent and to believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The best answer to the earthquake is to point to God’s mercy, kindness, and love as they were demonstrated at the cross and then to comfort God’s people with the words from the Heidelberg Catechism:

(Q. 28) What advantage is it to us to know that God has created, and by his providence does still uphold all things?

That we may be patient in adversity; thankful in prosperity; and that in all things, which may hereafter befall us, we place our firm trust in our faithful God and Father, that nothing shall separate us from his love; since all creatures are so in his hand, that without his will they cannot so much as move.

Monday, February 1, 2010

RHB and the Westminster Assembly Project

You have probably already seen this from another source but just in case you haven't here is a link to the press release from Reformation Heritage Books about their agreement to publish a number of books related to the Westminster Assembly project. One of the chief members of this group, Chad Van Dixhoorn, is an OPC pastor at a church in Vienna. The first of the works should be released in March so ought to be something to look forward to!

The Westminster Assembly homepage is here.