The4thDave Reviews: “American Gospel: Christ Alone”

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What is the Gospel?

How is that word used and misused, especially in 21st-century America?

American Gospel: Christ Alone, a new documentary by filmmaker Brandon Kimber, seeks to answer those very important questions.

American Gospel sets out to accomplish 2 goals: to present a clear and unmistakable presentation of the Christian message we know as the Good News (or “gospel”); and to contrast that message with the most popular imitation of the Gospel in American culture, commonly know as the “Word of Faith” or “Prosperity” gospel.

Kimber takes on the biggest names in popular American religion, not by attacking these figures personally with sarcasm or snark, but by directly comparing what they teach to what is written in the Word of God and has been passed down as the historically orthodox, protestant Christian doctrine.

The film’s main premise is built on one of the 5 “Solas” of the Protestant Reformation: the idea that we are saved by Christ alone–not Christ plus works, not Christ plus others’ accomplishments, not Christ plus pedigree. Furthermore, when we turn from our sins and put our trust in the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are coming to Christ alone for Christ alone–not just for what He can offer us in this life, as if He were a butler or genie.

The juxtaposition between orthodox Christian teaching and the claims of popular prosperity preachers and faith healers could not be more striking. Kimber takes the first 30-45 minutes to establish the truth claims of historic Christianity, and then sets them against the modern substitute in stark contrast. The history, doctrinal characteristics, and key figures of this theologically poisonous movement are then examined in detail.

In short: American Gospel: Christ Alone is a stunner of a documentary, rich with theological truth and unflinching in its critique of the most popular preachers and miracle healers today. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

The cinematography, editing, and video production work is absolutely top-shelf. The sheer number and calibre of Christian pastors and theologians featured in the film is astounding.

Rather than get into more details, I’ll just say: You really need to watch this film. Watch it with your family, your friends, your church small group or Sunday School class.

The documentary is almost 2 1/2 hours long, so it could be broken up pretty easily into a few viewing sessions with time for discussion afterward. I can’t think of a more fruitful and edifying film that has been released in the last several years. Don’t miss out on this one!

You can rent/purchase digital copies of American Gospel on Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, Vimeo, and the Google Play store. Most of those rental options are around $4-5. You can also purchase the film on DVD/Blu-Ray at the distributor’s website.

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Have you seen American Gospel yet? Share your thoughts below!

#30ThankYous Day 1: Dr. R.C. Sproul

Dr. Sproul,

There are theologians and pastors whose impact is appreciated but vastly underestimated in their own generation. I think that, in succeeding generations of Christians, you (along with your great friend, Dr. MacArthur) will be considered one of these luminaries.

For the record, I am a Baptist from birth (irony intended), so you’ll have to forgive my not having encountered your work until adulthood, but I am only now (after your passing) beginning to understand how much your ministry has affected not only my own Christian life but also other pastors and teachers who have consequently impacted my life. It is only now, by going back through the written and recorded archive of your work that I’m beginning to appreciate the mind and passion God gave to the Protestant church in you.

The thing that most strikes me about your life and public ministry, Dr. Sproul, is how clearly and palpably you regarded the holiness of God. Not long ago, I watched a sermon of yours from years back, in which you exposited Isaiah 6. The best word to describe the experience is “weighty.” You spoke of the glory and holiness of God as one who understood it intimately, and through your passion and gravity, I was confronted by it anew. It actually reminded me of Jonathan Edwards–how his devotion and sincere faith fell like thunder on his hearers, despite his reportedly mild delivery.

This is part of your legacy, Dr. Sproul. In your teaching and preaching, your hearers are reminded that the God who redeems His elect is a holy and transcendent sovereign King, and that His people must never take that lightly.

Even now, you are able to look with unveiled face into the glory you so long proclaimed, without fear or shame. I cannot imagine your joy.

I hope one bright and everlasting day, on the other side of the river, I can meet you and thank you for your faithful work. In the interim, I praise God for your example.

Your brother in Christ,

Dave

The4thDave Reads: “What Is Reformed Theology?” by Dr. R.C. Sproul

I’m not sure exactly when I started exploring Reformed doctrine. It happened sometime in the late 2000’s, likely due to my crossing paths with the ministries of John Piper, Mark Driscoll (before he drove Mars Hill into a ditch), and Matt Chandler. Sometime between 2007 and 2010, I began really considering the doctrines of election and predestination, and it made me see parts of the New Testament with new eyes.

I grew up in the SBC, so if “Calvinism” was ever mentioned (which wasn’t often, in my circles), it was generally distrusted. In fact, thinking back to my early days of teaching college Sunday School classes, I shudder to remember the outright Arminianism that I taught for a few years. Suffice it to say, the tone and tenor of my teaching greatly changed.

Depending on whom you talk to, I’m not technically “reformed” in  my theology as much as “Calvinistic” in my soteriology — meaning, I hold to what’s called the “Doctrines of Grace” but I’m not confessional in my theology. (I’m still looking into it, y’all, chill out.) But no matter what label I would use for my own position, I have become convinced that the “reformed” doctrine of salvation is the best way to interpret the Scriptures.

Why bring all this up? Just putting my cards on the table, so that when I say I found Dr. Sproul’s classic book on the “basics” of Reformed theology compelling and instructive, I’m clear about my starting point and that I was already inclined to agree with it. What I found in this helpful volume only confirmed my resolve on these issues.

What Is Reformed Theology? provides an outstanding primer on the basics of (you guessed it) Reformed theology, as well as chapter-long explications of the 5 “petals” of the TULIP acrostic (Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints), while addressing the misconceptions of and arguments against each concept. Dr. Sproul doesn’t make assumptions about his reader, but carefully works through the core concepts, in order to demonstrate the soundness of a Reformed reading of Scripture.

What Worked

I found this volume to be approachable though not simple. This isn’t a light and breezy read, but it’s also not tied down by opaque theological jargon. Dr. Sproul is a natural teacher, so his argumentation builds from simple to complex. If you’re looking to learn these concepts, this is a great resource.  Dr. Sproul touches on different points in church history that address the doctrinal discussions involved, and provides a Biblical justification for the arguments used.

The examination of free will and “compatibilism” in the chapter on total depravity was particularly helpful in clarifying my understanding on the idea of how our volition co-exists with God’s sovereignty. I had been introduced to this idea before, but Dr. Sproul’s explanation helped me to settle the ideas in my mind so that I could explain it more easily in my own teaching and writing.

I also appreciated how Dr. Sproul took time to address misconceptions and misapplications of the TULIP acrostic, including a helpful explanation about how some of the terminology used in the name of each doctrine may actually confuse the issue. For example, he argued that “P” may be better explained as the Preservation of the Saints, because it is the work of God that holds us, and not simply that we hold on to Him. This helped me consider how the way we say things should be carefully considered when we discuss theological truths.

Minor Quibbles

I do have two small critiques of this volume.

First, the chapter on covenant theology felt a bit thin. Granted, the nature of the volume did not allow for anything but the basics to be explained, but as someone who did not grow up in that mindset, I was hoping for a bit more meat on the bone when it came to the difference between covenant theology and other approaches like dispensationalism. I suppose the onus is on me to seek a deeper discussion on my own.

Secondly, the book just ends after the chapter on perseverance/preservation of the saints, the “P” of TULIP. I think a summary or concluding chapter that tied the ideas together again at the end would have been appropriate, rather than just running abruptly into the end-notes.

Also: End notes? Really? Hm.

My Recommendation

What is Reformed Theology? is an incredibly helpful volume for people who are unfamiliar with Reformed thinking (or grew up hearing that Calvinists are missions-hating boogeymen) or those who want to solidify their understanding of the Doctrines of Grace. Clocking in at 250 pages, this is a speedy and effective way to get your feet set as you begin to explore this theological system.

 

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Please Note: The publisher, Baker Books, provided my a paperback copy of the book in exchange for a honest review.

(I’m sorry it took me so long to write this, Baker! #OverdueBookReview )

#FridayFive: Five Podcasts I Really Like That You Probably Don’t Listen To (Yet)

Happy Friday, gang!

So, I’m a bit of a podcast junkie and have a tendency to download way more than I could possibly listen to (especially since my daily commute dropped from 3+ hours to 50 minutes round-trip in recent years). But whenever I’m doing housework, or even some of the less-cerebral tasks at my day job (don’t tell the boss, okay?), I’m listening to podcasts.

So, today I’d like to tell you about 5 podcasts I really enjoy that you may not have heard of–in other words, no Radiolab or This American Life on this list.

And, to save myself from repeating it, you should be able to find all of these on iTunes, Stitcher, Castbox, etc. Go check ’em out.

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The “Goliverse” Podcasts: Okay, this first one is a bit of a cheat, because it’s not just one podcast. One of my favorite podcasters is Steve Glosson, who has created a network of podcasts over the last decade. While some of the Goliverse shows have come and gone over the years, Geek Out Loud and Big Honkin Show (my favorites, honestly) have stuck around consistently. Despite losing his entire backlog of episodes due to server crashes (twice), Steve has persevered, and his programs provide a safe place to geek out, an audio cup o’ coffee, and a whole lot of joy and laughter. He’s in the process of re-uploading past BHS episodes, and it’s been a blast to re-experience that show.  He also broadcasts live on Mixlr.

Gut Check Podcast: You know that old college buddy of yours who loved the same 3-4 movies that you do, still quotes them constantly, and grew up to be a pretty chill, cool guy with just the right amount of self-awareness, self-deprecation, and bravado? The guy who you see once in a really long while, but every time you hang out, you come away thinking, “Man, I really like that guy, we should hang out more”? That guy is this podcast. Every episode with authors / podcasters / coffee-moguls Ted Kluck and Zach Bartels sounds like one of those “once in a long while” hangouts. There’s a little bit of awkwardness from time to time, but mostly you feel like you’re being let into the cool-kids circle and get to share the inside jokes. I dig this one.

The Way I Heard It: Okay, fine, this one is pretty well-known, with perhaps a million subscribers, but I never hear anyone talking about it in my corner of the internet, so I wanted to show some love. Basically, TWIHI is a show by Mike Rowe (of Dirty Jobs fame) who uses that iconic voicebox of his to tell 5-10 minute stories from pop culture history that keep the famous figure behind the story a mystery until the reveal at the end of the episode. This show is often called a spiritual successor to Paul Harvey’s classic The Rest of the Story. I love it. You should love it too.

When We Understand the Text (WWUTT): Pastor Gabe Hughes gives listeners a 25-ish minute Bible study 5 days a week, and it’s always edifying. He works verse-by-verse through a New Testament book on Mon-Wed, gives a chapter-by-chapter overview of an Old Testament book on Thursdays, and then records a “mailbag” segment on Fridays (often with his wife). Hughes is a faithful Biblical expositor with a steadfast devotion to understanding the Scriptures rightly and an approachable teaching style. You should also check out WWUTT videos on Youtube, where you’ll find 90-second videos answering common Biblical questions.

Reading Writers: This podcast about reading and readers is one that I lost track of for a while and recently came back to. I appreciate the easy-going approach and the fact that their focus isn’t on just new books coming out or any of the “industry” updates, but on what reading means to us and how it affects people differently, particularly from a Christian perspective. Sometimes, the hosts interview people in the Christian publishing world (where they both work) and other times, it’s just the two of them talking through a topic. Aaron Armstrong also blogs at Blogging Theologically (a site that feels like a more bookish Challies.com–and that’s a complement).

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There you go–five suggestions to add to your podcast list. Hope you’ve found one of your new favorites in the list above!

Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you here next week!

YOUR TURN: Any less-well-known podcast recommendations you want to share? Post them in the comments below!

The4thDave Reads: The ESV Reader’s Bible – Poetry

I started the year with a goal of reading through the Bible in less than a year for the first time ever. My wife had given me a gorgeous “reader’s Bible” set as a Christmas present, and I was excited to dig in and start reading straight through.

In the first 2 1/2 months of the year, I made quick work of the Pentateuch and the Historical Books by committing to reading 30 minutes a day, usually at the end of the day. I loved it! I was able to move through large sections of Scripture and just focus on the story and the overarching themes. During the few times I really struggled to make progress (I’m lookin’ at you, I-II Chronicles), having all of the names and places and histories fresh in my mind really helped to make the early part of the Old Testament come alive.

I started the Poetry volume with that same excitement, and zipped through the book of Job. However, when I started Psalms, I hit a slump. I wish I could blame my lost momentum on our family vacation and days of driving and visiting family. But the real problem was that my daily reading became very inconsistent, and I struggled with my approach to the text.

Reading 30 minutes non-stop is great for narrative, or even Old Testament case-law. But when it came to Psalms and Proverbs, I soon realized that plowing through it wasn’t helping me retain much. So I made the decision to read only 5 Psalms a day, and a page or two of Proverbs, with the hope of more meditation instead of mere completion. If I had stuck to it consistently, it would have taken me only 4-5 weeks. It took longer.

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I should take a moment here to talk about the reading experience with these volumes, and the effect of the type-setting and formatting. Each of the six volumes is bound in a stiff, cloth-covered hardback cover with a pleasant grain to it. The pages are printed on a creamy, white paper with none of the bleed-through or onion-skin feel that typical Bible pages have. It’s really a wonderful tactile experience, using this Bible. I didn’t think I’d enjoy it as much as I do. I’m not sure it would motivate me to pay full price for it (we got it at a steep discount), but it’s a nice luxury to enjoy and I’m thankful for it.

As for the layout and typesetting, there are minimal notations, limited primarily to the book title and major section headings (think 3-4 per book). This presents a challenge with books like Proverbs, in which you have a total of 2-3 headings inserted into the entire book, and the rest of the book mostly laid out as a never-ending series of couplets. This type of layout makes it easy to speed through without really stopping to ponder the proverbs themselves, and is one of the few instances in which having the modern addition of chapter divisions prevents a fly-over approach, because you are more likely to stop and reflect more often.

On the other hand, the editors decided to keep the Psalm divisions, which seems appropriate. So the book of Psalms is divided into the five “books” and then according to each individual Psalm. The lack of verse notations is particularly helpful here, because it then becomes a visual reminder that each Psalm is meant to be taken as a whole.

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All this to say, throughout the end of March and then into April and May, my Bible-in-a-year progress slowed to a crawl. I was reading inconsistently and in smaller segments. Once I finished Psalms and Proverbs (finally!), I was able to knock out Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon over the next 3-4 reading days.

I’m not sure how I would approach the reading of Psalms and Proverbs differently in the future, if I’m using the “reader’s Bible” format. I think those books may be best read with the divisions in place, in a “Psalms/Proverb of the Day” approach (in which you could read 5 Psalms and 1 chapter of Proverbs a day for 31 days). But how I read them is irrelevant if I’m not committed to do so consistently, rather than using my schedule changes and life events as an excuse to get lazy.

I’m slowly getting things back on track (and I’m halfway through Isaiah–woohoo!). Daily, consistent time in the Word is a habit I should have built years ago, and I’m glad, if nothing else, that I have the chance to amend that now.

The4thDave Reads: “The Imperfect Disciple” by Jared C. Wilson

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I feel like I say it every time I review/discuss a Jared Wilson book: I really love Wilson’s writing. I appreciate his heart, which comes through with every page. And Jared’s a legitimately good and sincere dude in person.

The Imperfect Disciple was released last year, and it really feels like Wilson’s most personal book to date. In the past, he has written more soaringly theological books, more widely-applicable books on ecclesiology and pastoral ministry. But Imperfect Disciple is both confessional and pastoral, encouraging and vulnerable. In most chapters, he shares personal stories in which he presents himself not as the hero, but as shy, awkward, and very human.

The effect of this is…jarring, in a rather nice way. In so much theological writing, you get the impression that the author is a varsity-level, all-state Christian, even if he or she would deny such designations. Lots of theological books have a feeling of otherness, of rabbi-ness–and that’s not to say that this is a bad thing. I like being taught by scholars and pastors who are wiser and more astute than I am. It blesses and challenges me.

But you don’t get a lot of books on the Christian life in which the author is upfront with how hard it is for him to walk this path sometimes. This is Wilson at his most personal (as personal as you can properly get in a book, I think). This feels like Wilson sitting across the table from you at a burger joint, a crumb or two on his shirt, telling you about his own faith journey. As such, his language and descriptions can be a bit colloquial–never crass or crude, but natural and un-pastory. (That sounds like a criticism; it’s not.)

Through the 10+ chapters in Imperfect Disciple, Jared talks about the in’s and out’s of daily Christian life–preaching the Gospel to yourself, practicing spiritual disciplines, dealing with doubt, hoping toward heaven. While there are places here and there where I could quibble with how he worded things or addressed theological ideas, he never veers into error. His ultimate aim in every chapter is to point the readers’ eyes away from themselves and back to Christ, the savior of imperfect and often lousy and foolish disciples.

In the end, I found The Imperfect Disciple to be refreshing and encouraging. Jared Wilson continues to minister to me as a fellow believer, and his honest and personal words remind me that I am loved by God, no matter how imperfectly I follow Him. This is a salve to my too-often-self-critical heart.

The4thDave Recommends: “God’s Greater Glory” by Dr. Bruce Ware.

This may not come as a shock to some of you (though I still haven’t really told my parents or grandparents), but I’m pretty much a “Reformed” Baptist–or what some would call (disparagingly, in their minds) a Calvinist. What this means is that I believe the Bible teaches that all people are born with a sin nature, a natural bent toward rebellion against God and His law.  Because of this, we are sinners by nature who become sinners by choice, and as such, we earn the righteous wrath of God for our rebellion. (I’ve covered this before.)

Because all men are born spiritually dead, I don’t believe we have the ability, in this state of spiritual deadness, even to turn to Jesus in repentance and faith. So God (through the Holy Spirit) must make us spiritually alive so that we can repent and believe in Jesus as our Savior, Sacrifice, and Substitute. This causes a problem for some who argue (perhaps fairly) that this means God chooses to save some but not others (or all). They argue that this would not be just of God. (My counter-argument would be that true “justice” would mean NO ONE is saved, but that’s a whole ‘nother deal.)

The sticking point in much of this debate between those who believe that God chooses us and those who believe that we must choose God is how we all understand the relationship between God’s sovereign will and human “free” will.

To tackle this subject, I would offer you, as a recommendation, God’s Greater Glory by Dr. Bruce Ware. I’m taking Dr. Ware’s Systematic Theology class this spring, so I got to read this great little book as part of that class. In God’s Greater Glory, Dr. Ware addresses the issue of divine sovereignty and providence. He looks at the different understandings of “free will” and how these definitions fit or conflict with the truths that have been revealed in Scripture. He also tackles some practical application of these ideas, including the areas of suffering, prayer, and Christian service.

This book seems to be a companion piece to his previous work, God’s Lesser Glory, which examines the serious theological problems with open theism or process theology (the idea that God is not all-knowing and experiences time and history as we do, moment by moment). However, you don’t need to have read the other book to appreciate GGG, because Dr. Ware provides a good deal of commentary on this issue as a part of the current discussion.

I’m not going to give too much away about his arguments, but I will say that he constructs a very compelling case for God’s sovereignty over all things, including human volition and behavior, yet still accounts for human dignity and responsibility. I’d never heard this issue discussed in this way, and (at risk of overstating) it has really revolutionized how I understand human responsibility and free will in this discussion.

I would recommend God’s Greater Glory to anyone who has struggled with the question of how God’s sovereignty meshes with human responsibility. Dr. Ware is an academic, so the book may be a bit dense to get through at first, but it’s worth taking your time and really considering his arguments. If nothing else, this book will turn your heart in worship and gratitude toward our great and glorious God.

WH Guest Post: “The ‘Fear of YHWH’ in Dan Phillips’ ‘God’s Wisdom in Proverbs'”

[This is a guest post by Webster Hunt, a regular feature here at The 4thDaveBlog.  You can follow Web at @livingheart on Twitter. This week, he discusses a great book called God’s Wisdom in Proverbs, by Pastor Dan Phillips. You can follow Dan on Twitter, or at his blogs.]

Until I read chapter 3 of Dan Phillips’s “God’s Wisdom in Proverbs”, whenever I got to Proverbs 1:7 “The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of knowledge; wisdom and discipline, dense people belittle.” (DJP’s rendering from Hebrew), I’d simply take the passage for granted and move on to the “meatier” parts of Proverbs: the discourses, the pithy one-and-two-liners, the contrasts, etc. I didn’t know its value, nor did I realize that that verse is the foundation of wisdom and knowledge.

Thankfully, though, Dan did, and says as much in the very first line of chapter 3, calling the topic of the verse “the foundational truth of the book of Proverbs” (pg 65).  And not only did he realize it and learn its worth, he studied it, matured in it, and by God’s grace took all those things and made them accessible for our sake, that we might also both grasp and be grasped by the fear of Yahweh, to quote a phrase he uses, and use the chapter – and really the whole book – as an ordinary means of grace by which we learn to properly understand and apply God’s Word and grow in the knowledge of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ.

When I had the opportunity, I bought a copy of “God’s Wisdom in Proverbs” with the expectation to get some good commentary and was pleasantly surprised to get what was more like an instruction manual on how to understand the Proverbs. Dan is clear early on that God put Proverbs in the Bible for a good reason, and since God’s words are the most rare commodity in the universe, we would do well to study them in order that we might also obey them – and the implied command of Proverbs 1:7 is no different. If the fear of Yahweh is the beginning of Wisdom (not A beginning, but THE – definite article – beginning), and it is only the fool and the dense that belittle wisdom and discipline, and since Jesus, the Second person of the Godhead, in His humanity obeyed every word spoken by His Father, who are we to think that this should simply be passed by and thought of as trivial?

One of the strengths of this chapter is Dan’s insistence that we understand the fear of Yahweh in the context that Solomon would have. He writes of how Solomon didn’t just pull this concept out of thin air but rather was taught it throughout his childhood from the Scriptures – and he encourages the reader to follow along as Solomon would have, mentioning the fear of Yahweh in the life of Israel from Deuteronomy, and of Abraham from Genesis.  The chapter is dependant on what the Scriptures communicate about the fear of Yahweh, and I know it might be silly to point out the obvious, but you only know someone by what they reveal about themselves, and we can only know God’s character, who He is, what He desires, and what He hates by what He reveals about Himself, and the Bible is the only place we are able to get that from – I say all of that to labor that when Dan describes the fear of Yahweh, he isn’t expressing his own opinion, but rather God’s revelation, and that calls me to submit to it.

Within the context of the Scriptures Solomon would have learned from, Dan gleans a few important details about the fear of Yahweh in the 1st quarter of the chapter:

1) The fear of Yahweh involves a subject and an Object.
The subjects of the fear, those who must grasp the fear, are us. Me. You. Humanity. Everyone is commanded to fear Yahweh. Dan points out on page 66 that this command is not limited to any sex, ethnicity, occupation, age, etc. If you’re a human being, you must fear Yahweh. Also, no one can fear Yahweh in anyone else’s stead – not even the Holy Spirit can fear Yahweh for us (pg 67). There is a personal responsibility that we, as the subjects of the fear of Yahweh, must drive toward and do – and what a reason to call upon Christ! Jesus Christ is the only man who ever always feared Yahweh properly. We know this because He grew in favor with God (Luke 2:52) and was described by God as His “Beloved Son with whom He was well pleased” (Matt 3:17) and was without sin (Heb 4:15). And since He came as a man born under the Law (Gal 4:4) and always did the will of His Father, then it is no stretch for me to believe that, for all righteousness, that the man Christ feared God His Father.

So while no one can fear Yahweh in our stead, we must. Otherwise, we are the dense fool who belittles wisdom and reveres his own thoughts and ways.

Now to the Object of the fear of Yahweh – Yahweh Himself, the One whom the subjects are commanded to have fear of, and to fear.  When Dan gets to this point, from pages 67-70, he gives the best argument I know of for doing away with the superstitious, faux-honor tradition of substituting God’s name, Yahweh, for LORD and all the other renditions. The fact that God specifically uses His name 6823 times in the Old Testament (pg 67), he points out, is a pretty clear indicator that it was meant to be used, not hidden! And when he makes the point that he understands God’s name, Yahweh, “to signify God as the one who is present faithfully to keep His covenant, the promise-keeping God who is personally present,” it puts the command to fear Him in a proper context. Fear of man will end when that man dies, when he goes away, when you go away. However, since Yahweh is eternally present and faithful to keep whatever covenant He desires to make, the fear of Yahweh doesn’t end either, and takes on a different thought than, say, a fear of snakes, or falling, or “a sort of generalized anxiety, a sort of pantophobia” (pg 67). It’s different from those fears because of the way in which Yahweh deals with His people.

Again, as Dan points out skillfully on pages 71-73, this is a fear that was to be taught and learned by way of His commands and laws, His word. Sure, there was emotional fear at the dreadful sights of God’s glory descended on Mount Sinai as it caught fire, winds whirled about chaotically, the sky filled with smoke, and trumpet blasts rang out the arrival of the King of all things. But what does Yahweh focus on? Dan points out that in Deuteronomy 4:10 that it’s His Word that was to be taught to the children that they might learn to fear Him. His works and commands were to be told again and again with the expectation that they would fear Him and obey Him and love Him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.

2)”The fear of Yahweh requires revelation” (pg 71)

As I covered above, the only way to know someone is for them to reveal themselves to you, and God is no different. Although the Bible is clear that all men know God is, knowing He is doesn’t equal knowing Him. Think about it: the Triune God who by the word of His power made all things, made man who then squandered every good thing God gave to Him, has chosen to make Himself known to man who hates Him – and more than that, decided before man was that He would save for Himself a holy, peculiar treasure out of the mass of wretched men at the expense of His own Holy, Righteous Son. And because we are wicked and sinful, we don’t by nature know what it means to fear Yahweh. So He stoops and reveals that to man, that we might read and heed and obey and fear Him. To quote Dan on page 73, “God’s Word produces the right attitude toward Him, because His Word reveals Him, His mind and His ways to us. His Word alone gives content to our faith.” And then he makes these three spectacular points:

  •         Without content, there would be no REASON to fear
  •         Without content, there would be no OBJECT for our fear
  •         Without content, there would be no FORM to give to our fear

We cannot fear if we do not know God’s Word, because we cannot fear Him properly if we do not know Him properly. And I’m speaking of the secondary means, the ordinary means, the means by which we actually do what God has commanded us to do. There is no need to spiritualize what God has made practical. We aren’t smarter than Him. Do I really have to qualify that we do this by the power of the Holy Spirit in real time, in real ways, because Jesus Christ has reconciled us to God, and by His blood we know Him? I guess so. Self-fulfilling prophesy and all that.

So with that point Dan gives probably the strongest argument from Proverbs as to why we should invest in reading, studying, and knowing God’s word – at least he does to me – that we should partake of any means of grace, ordinary or supernatural, because they’re given by God for a purpose, and that purpose is always to glorify His Son Jesus, and making us like Him in order to do that.

And that’s just in the first 10 pages of chapter 3. I plan to make a few more passes to give you the bird’s eye view of this chapter, in the hopes that you’ll make use of this wonderful book that Dan has worked hard to put into the hands of folks like me who grew up in churches and was never taught the rich, beautiful, humbling truth of Proverbs 1:7 and the fear of Yahweh. Don’t waste the good things God has given us through wiser, more mature Christians.

Grace to you all. I hope you were edified and encouraged in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

Smoke alarm.

On Monday night, I decided that my Friday post would center on World Vision’s employment policy change, opening up the way for people in state-recognized same-sex unions to work at World Vision without violating the evangelically-inclined institution’s morality clause. Of course, as you likely know by now, WV has since reversed their decision, and threw in some convincing* (to my mind) mea culpa‘s, to boot. There are some in the Christian quarters of the internet that cheered this reversal, some that sneered, some that doubted Richard Stearns’ motives, and some that were relieved they personally didn’t have to make what they felt was a difficult moral decision. I was part of this last group.

I started sponsoring a child with World Vision about 10 years ago. I keep her pictures on my fridge. Her name is Meselech.  I’ve blogged about her in the past. [Please pardon some squishy theology in that post, by the way–for what it’s worth, I was still an Arminian then, so who knows what other kinds of crazy stuff I believed**.]

I’ve since sponsored several others over the years. Some left their programs, some I just couldn’t afford to help anymore. But right now, I sponsor two girls through World Vision (one in Kenya and one in Haiti), and because I take this issue of marriage seriously, WV-USA’s corporate decision gave me pause.

I saw the digital slings and arrows from indignant people mocking Christians who felt the way I did, that confusion, that discomfort. People who said that anyone who wanted to end their association with WV on principle loved dogma more than children and shouldn’t call themselves followers of Jesus.  [Yes, I saw your Facebook posts. I saw your tweets. I was offended, but I didn’t say anything, because, why? Would it have made a difference?]

I decided before making any decisions, I would talk to the person I know who has the strongest opinions on the issue of orphan care: my beloved fiancée. And even though the “issue” had been resolved by the time we could discuss it, I still wanted to hear her heart on the issue.  She’s spent the last several years of her life and career focused on orphan-care issues, and this stuff matters to her. So her measured approach, which I appreciated, was that she would have finished her committed terms with the kids she was currently sponsoring, and then moved her money to a similar organization doing similar work that fit more in line with her beliefs. But she would have made sure that the children she was sponsoring were taken care of, first. I think this is where I would have landed on this question, as well. It seems like the best possible response.

This may make no sense to you, all this sturm und drang about same-sex unions in relief organizations. That’s fine. But it matters to me, because doctrine matters to me. Theology isn’t just an academic exercise; it bleeds over into all areas of life. If you don’t believe that, it’s not because your theology doesn’t affect your life; it’s probably because a different theology than the one you vocally espouse is the one that affects your life.

Everyone is a theologian. I think R.C. Sproul said that first, and it’s true. You, right now, reading this blog post, are a theologian, because you have some sort of belief system about God. It could be an atheist theology, an agnostic theology, an indifferent theology, a socially-focused theology, but it’s there, like the rebar reinforcing your moral and ideological foundations.

My theology, my beliefs about God, they say something about marriage. My theology says something about sexuality. My theology says something about caring for orphans and widows in their distress. I cannot in good conscience selectively apply my theology to one side of this discussion OR to the other.

Well, this is all sound and fury, signifying nothing, right? After all, World Vision reversed their position. Everyone can go back to the church potluck, right?  No. Because this isn’t over. This is just the beginning of what I anticipate will be a lifetime of these kinds of discussions and decisions. This issue isn’t a fringe issue, and it isn’t going away. What we believe about sexuality, about marriage, and about God will always be an active part of how we live as humans in society and what we talk about in our communities. So it’s better to get this sorted now.

This was just a test. Like pressing the button on a smoke alarm. Screech, then silence, with just a bit of a ringing in our ears.

 

 

[*I know of several bloggers, pastors, and thinkers who didn’t feel this was convincing enough, and are assuming the apology was more in the “we’re sorry we got smacked” vein. While that’s certainly possible, I agree with Dr. Albert Mohler’s assessment that this apology went farther than the typical sheepish recoil of a chastised public figure. I also believe that the apology statement revealed a really doctrine-poor thought process generated the first announcement, and that has its own set of issues to discuss. For someone else, though.]

[**That’s a joke, people. Lighten up. I simply believed that I had the power to choose or reject Jesus of my own free will, completely unencumbered by one side or the other affecting my decision. Oh, and that I could have conversations with God “in my spirit” that were almost on par with what He tells me in His word. See? Totally rational…um…]