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Great counsel from Jonathan Edwards’ classic Religious Affections

Forward to Christ

Forward to Christ 

When a newly-converted young lady from Connecticut wrote Jonathan Edwards a letter in 1741 seeking advice on growth in godliness and assurance, the venerable theologian wrote back and offered words that might be unconscionable in popular evangelical circles today.

Essentially, Edwards told her, “Don’t look back.”

In point 10 of his 17-point answer, Edwards advised the young matron regarding “times when you fall into doubts about the state of your soul” as follows:

It is proper to review your past experience; but do not consume too much time and strength in this way; rather apply yourself, with all your might, to an earnest pursuit after renewed experience, new light, and new lively acts of faith and love. One new discovery of the glory of Christ’s face, will do more toward scattering clouds of darkness in one minute, than examining old experience, by the best marks that can be given, through a whole year.[1]

For Edwards, “looking back” did little or nothing to imbue the believer with unshakable assurance of salvation. Edwards held that the believer must, by God’s grace, persevere in bearing fruit and then the evidence of a sanctified life would effectively assure the believer of his or her standing before God. Edwards understood the apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians and how he spoke of “forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead:” the Christian pilgrimage is not a fifty-yard dash, but a rigorous marathon, fraught with obstacles and alternative dead-end paths. To stay such a treacherous course, Christians need objective marks of conversion, thus Edwards’ admonition for the young lady to apply herself to “new lively acts of faith and love.”

Read entire article by Jeff Robinson

On the art of Observation!

A classic essay on the foundational art indispensible to reading with understanding. Is this a lost art among Bible readers?

READING the BIBLE with UNDERSTANDING

Have we understood the Gospels in a balanced way? Or have we missed the main messages the original authors had in mind? To answer this is the purpose behind N.T. Wright’s- How God Became King   Wonderful discussion on what we miss if we read the gospels w/o understanding these themes in the Biblical narrative.Final chapter is a marvelous commentary on the Nicene Creed.                                                                                                     Review posted @FirstThingsmag– by James Rogers of Texas A&M of “How God became King” which provides good over-view of N.T.Wright’s helpful contribution toward a balanced reading of the Gospels.

from ACT3 newsletter 2009 “This is NOT the Gospel of the Kingdom“. worth another look in  2013. Keeping the Kingdom theme in the gospels of our New Testament

Gratitude-and-Mission reading what the Bible says about thanksgiving. A classic essay from Paul Minear’s, The Obedience of Faith -excellent primer for Thanksgiving celebrations.

Meditation on the final weeks of the Church year– Pausing before CHRIST, the KING & reflecting on the Blessed Hope of our Faith.

The sacrament of communion

The sacrament of communion

Thoughts from Jean Corbon for Eastertide.

I was introduced to Jean Carbon only recently by my good friend John Armstrong of ACT3(Avancing the Christian Tradition in the third millennium). His comments about  God’s plan revealed in Scripture as mystery is the theme for my personal study & devotions during this year’s Eastertide observance.

As I began the 50 day adventure, I read an excellent post by an Orthodox Priest, Father Stephen, “Beyond Pascha“. In order for you to have a place to begin in considering Jean Corbon’s thoughts about liturgy, I think it will be helpful to start with something Father Stephen said in his post:

Just as the modern world has little understanding of the meaning of fasting, so, too, does it fail to understand the meaning of liturgy. Liturgy is not a means of marking time on a calendar –  liturgy is a means (and mode) of existence.

The Liturgy of the Christian mystery

After John’s introduction, I decided I needed to read Jean Corbon for myself and so I ordered “The Wellspring of Worship”  (2005, Ignatius Press). This is one of the books I’m now reading and from which the following comments are taken.

Everything that can be identified as a peculiarly Christian truth is, in one way or another, a derivative of the one central truth that man was created in order to live forever in personal communion with the Holy Trinity.

The explicit revelation of the transcendent goal of man’s existence was given in and through the history of Jesus of Nazareth and the history of the special mission of the Holy Spirit that followed upon his death, Ressurection, and glorification.

That is one reason for celebrating Eastertide as a continuation of Easter. This is the special time to contemplate all that has happened in the Incarnation event that we have celebrated from Christmas through Easter, pausing as it were before we come to Ascension and Pentecost and beyond.

With the sending of the Spirit from the Father through the risen Lord to bind believers to the beloved Son, and so bring them into personal communion with the Father of all, the ecclesial body of Christ was born.

The Church of Jesus Christ is the concrete place in history where this trinitarian mystery is explicitly proclaimed and accepted, where the Father’s offer of self-communication through his only Son and his Holy Spirit finds a free response of praise and thanksgiving.

This mystery is represented and shared in a festive way in the liturgy of the Church; it is continually offered and accepted in all the dimensions of the daily life of faith.

Read an excerpt from “The Wellspring of Worship” by Jean Corbon.

A related review of James Torrance’s book, “Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace”  (IVP 1996).

More resources at my “Open Secret” page.

Restoring Unity is what the Christian Message is all about!

Christ's Message to the churches (Revelation)

In the first century churches, the first generation, there was already considerable misunderstanding about the essence of the Church which Christ was building & nurturing- His Kingdom community. Much of the Apostle Paul’s ministry as the Apostle to the Gentiles, had to deal with opposition from the Palestinian churches and their leaders. It should come as no surprise to those who read their Bible that much of his writings include elements of this division and his attempts to heal them. In his letter to the Ephesians it is the major theme- the purpose of God’s pleasure to “unite in Christ all things”; but it is also an integral part of his letter to the house churches of Rome.

In the last century, missional leaders from many diverse church traditions saw that our divisions were directly affecting our task in the world and that the time had come to move the theme of unity to the front burner of our efforts. This effort came to be known as the ecumenical movement and many gains were made by those that participated. But many churches, because of convictions, did not participate. Some condemned the efforts outright, some observed at a distance.

In the new century, much has changed for the churches; or has it? We find ourselves still in the midst of the same world with the same assignment from our King: preach the Gospel of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, make disciples of all nations, and above all, live out the new life Christ has inaugurated. Some refer to a “new” ecumenism because it seems that many of those that were not officially a part of the “older” effort want to be distinguished from them. I personally feel this is wrong-headed and counter-productive to the very thing we’re focused on -unity. I love, respect, and esteem some of those who were leaders in bringing into being the World Council of Churches.

I just happen to be reading another book written by W.A.Visser’t Hooft, the first General Secretary, who served the churches with love and dedication for many years. Like another of his books, The Pressure of Our Common Calling, which I posted about earlier, this is a sound theological basis for the Church’s mission, edification, and unity. It is about the perennial importance of renewal grounded in the very character of the Church of God as the new creation in Christ.

I want to quote him at the place where he emphasizes that the whole Church-all the churches, must heed the imperatives addressed to the new creation. To me that means we can never settle for anything less than Biblical unity and diligently work towards that as a goal, knowing that it will come at the consumation of our redemption in Christ.

The need of the whole Church for repentance and renewal is most clearly shown in the second and third chapters of the Book of Revelation. It has often been pointed out that the seven churches to whom the letters are addressed represented the most flourishing part of the Church at that time. But more important is that according to the symbolic language of the author the seven churches clearly represent the Church as a whole. For seven is the figure of totality.

In these letters the whole Church is addressed. This is underlined by the fact that each letter is concluded by the solemn warning: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”. The warning and promise received by each church is meant to be overheard and passed on by other churches and so to reach the whole Church.

Now it is significant that five of the seven letters are in the nature of calls to repentance. For that means that the Church as such is called to live the life of metanoia, of constant readiness to turn away from the path of this world and to let herself be renewed. And once again it is clear that renewal means living by the power of the new age. In the letter to the Church in Sardis repentance is identified with awakening (3:2,3). To be awake is to be ready for the Day of the Lord. ‘ Lo, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is he who is awake’ (16:15).

The churches are called to remember from what they have fallen (2:5) or what they have received and heard (3:3). That is to say they are to realize again that they represent the new creation. If they do, if they turn resolutely away from the old age, then they will receive the new name (2:17 and 3:12) and be counted as belonging to the new Jerusalem (3:12). Such a metanoia is in this world never a completed process; it is to be actualized and implemented every day anew. – The Renewal of The Church, p.47 (1956)

Restoring or renewing the unity of the Church of Christ is never easy work. Church history for almost 2000 years will tell us that. But progress in recent decades has been made- perhaps more than at any other time. This is what our Lord intends and if we are serious about following Him, we have no other path. Unity is not optional for the Church nor for any indivdual Christian. All of us must make it a part of our prayers and efforts by the grace of God and for His fame on earth. This season of Eastertide is a great time to make this a priority in our spiritual journey of faith.

see “Reasons for Neglecting God’s priority

” That they may behold my glory” – The Prayer of Jesus 


Gifts of the Ascended Christ

 

The greatest desire that Christ expressed in his prayer was that his people might be with him to behold his glory. It is clear that in this prayer the Lord Christ was referring to his own glory and the actual sight of it.

Only a sight of his glory, and nothing else, will truly satisfy God’s people. One of the greatest privileges the believer has, both in this world and for eternity, is to behold the glory of Christ.

Ever since the name of Christ was known on the earth, there has never been such direct opposition to the uniqueness and glory of Christ as the present day. It is the duty of all those who love the Lord Jesus to testify according to their ability to his uniqueness and glory.

I would therefore try to strengthen the faith of true believers by showing that to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ by faith is the climax of all Christ’s requests for his disciples in this present world. Here in this life, beholding the glory of the Lord, they are changed into his own likeness by his Spirit (2Cor.3:18). Hereafter, they will be like him for they will see him as he is (1 John 3:2). This knowledge of Christ is the continual life and reward of our souls.

If, therefore we would have a more active faith and a greater love to Christ, giving rest and satisfaction to our souls, we must have a greater desire to see more of his glory in this life. We should not look for anything in heaven other than what we have some experience of (by faith) in this life. If we were fully persuaded of this we would be more often thinking about heavenly things than we usually are.

– John Owen (1684) from The Glory of Christ, the theme of the final year of his life (d.1683).

If Owen found it difficult in England in his day, how much more in our day to keep the greatest gift of all our constant priority. The Advent season is the perfect time to evaluate the year and one’s own choices to judge how well we have resisted all the distractions of the world and kept our eyes on this Leader who is both the Author and Perfecter of our faith.

 

Watch ‘Jesu, Joy of man’s desiring’.

For Brazilians: YouTube honoring Nilson Fanini (1932-2009)  “Verei Jesus como Ele e’ ” e tambem “Para Que vejam a minha gloria” http://youtu.be/3HLhhHNDvxg

Related Post: What difference has looking made?

 

 

The Jewish Festival of Lights begins tonight at sundown and as I wish my Jewish friends a very Happy Hanukkah, I can’t help from thinking that here too is a perfect remembrance of the first Christmas.

Similar to my last post, in appreciating another faith tradition, I have little trouble in having my own Christian faith strengthened. For what was the Messianic Hope looked for when the darkness of sin and the Roman occupation seemed so hopeless? Was it not the faith that what God Himself had promised His people, He would one day give?

And then it happened-The Light of The World became human flesh and was announced by a brilliant light in the East. As I listened to a wonderful explanation of the Festival of Lights this a.m. on NPR, I was transported back in the Biblical narrative to that moment.

The word ‘anamnesis‘ perfectly describes for me now, not only the “Sacraments” of the Church that are so important to the Christian faith, but also the Advent season with all it’s expectation and joy. In fact, I happen to have a book out on my desk called, “Ecumenical Perspectives on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry” (1983 edition) and what I find in the description of the Sacrament of the Eucharist, pretty well sums up what I am remembering (recollecting, reminiscing) as I celebrate Advent.

” Christ instituted the Eucharist, sacrament of His body and blood with its focus on the cross and resurrection, as the anamnesis of the whole of God’s reconciling action in Him. Christ Himself with all He has accomplished for us and for all creation…is present in this anamnesis as is  also the foretaste of His Parousia and the consumation of the Kingdom.

The anamnesis in which Christ acts through the joyful celebration of His Church thus includes this representation and anticipation. It is not only a calling to mind of what is past, or its significance. It is the Church’s effective proclamation of God’s mighty acts. By this communion with Christ the Church participates in that reality.” (page 205)

 

2012 UPDATE the Festival of Lights began on December, 8, 2012.

Viewing an extraordinary emphasis upon Mariology in Latin America in light of the cultural background involved.  

 

Did Mary Ascend as Jesus did?

I think over the past two years I have demonstrated my dedication to the unity of the Body of Christ & the necessity to work together as never before to make visual progress in demonstrating this unity before a watching world.

This does not mean we do not wrestle we difficult questions, seeking to understand Christians in differing faith traditions and promoting open two-way exchanges. Since Ascension Sunday, I have been thinking about the practical effects which are derived from living faith based upon the Biblical narrative. At the center of that narrative for this present age in which we live, I find the reality of the Living, present, rule of the exalted King of KINGS.

I think we have to ask the churches, some soul-searching questions? For example, are there some very real ways they are actually hindering worshippers from seeing and experiencing the above reality of the Living Christ? I found that Eugene Nida had dealt with this directly in his 1974 book, “Understanding Latin Americans” (William Carey Library). For the purpose of challenging Christians and non-Christians alike to seriously think about this issue, I am posting part of Nida’s argument together with a link where you can read the larger context.

In trying to understand the reasons for focusing attention upon Mary, some persons have claimed that this is an almost inevitable result of making Christ less and less attractive to the people. Rather than the victorious ‘culture hero’, Christ is portrayed as the defeated, dying victim. Such a Christ produces feelings of pity and compassion, but he does not inspire confidence and hope. Christ on the cross reminds the sinner of his sins, but this does not make the average person want to identify himself with the suffering Savior. Contemplation of the dying Christ does elicit strong emotional feelings, but they tend to drain one of nervous energy. Accordingly, they do not result in the feeling of well-being or confidence.

In contrast with the dying Christ, the radiantly beautiful Mary is the benevolent one who is always accessible and always giving. It is Mary who has compassion for the multitude, and itis the contemplation of this symbol which brings reassurance and a sense of hope and well-being. As the mediatrix between the worshipper and Christ, or God, she becomes the giver of life, the source of health, and the means of power. It is not strange, therefore, that for many persons the center of worship in the Roman Church has shifted from Christ to Mary. People prefer to identify themselves with a living Mary rather than with a dying Christ. (Nida, page 26)

Continue reading, “Mariology in Latin America“.

Earlier related post: A Catholic word to Evangelicals

A song about the Patron Saint of Brazil  by Elis Regina

 

 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Rare because most college students don’t get many letters these days; they get e-mails and tweets. Rare because what’s being advocated in this letter by Stanley Hauerwas  is the disciplined use of the mind for the Christian college student.

Christ’s call on you as a student is a calling to meet the needs of the Church, both for its own life and the life of the world. The Resurrection of Jesus, Wilken suggests, is not only the central fact of Christian worship but also the ground of all Christian thinking “about God, about human beings, about the world and history.” Somebody needs to do that thinking—and that means you.

Don’t underestimate how much the Church needs your mind. Remember your Bible-study class? Christians read Isaiah’s prophecy of a suffering servant as pointing to Christ. That seems obvious, but it’s not; or at least it wasn’t obvious to the Ethiopian eunuch to whom the Lord sent Philip to explain things. Christ is written everywhere, not only in the prophecies of the Old Testament but also in the pages of history and in the book of nature. The Church has been explaining, interpreting, and illuminating ever since it began. It takes an educated mind to do the Church’s work of thinking about and interpreting the world in light of Christ. Physics, sociology, French literary theory: All these and more—in fact, everything you study in college—is bathed in the light of Christ. It takes the eyes of faith to see that light, and it takes an educated mind to understand and articulate it. ( from First Things, November issue)

Surveys have been telling the Christian Church for years, that they are losing large numbers of their young people during the college years. Could it be that many have not been prepared to use their minds about the really big issues of life?

I now have three of fifteen grandchildren in College and University and I can personally tell you they are more than capable of thinking about serious issues. Why don’t we treat them more like rational beings instead of entertaining them with games and food? Read the entire letter by Stanley Hauerwas, a long-time professor at Duke and formerly of Notre Dame. This is exactly the challenge that the Church and Christian parents should be preparing their young disciples for in addition to everything else.

Purdue University

Thinking of recent posts, this is the call to college students to be “radical disciples” in the context of American universities.

Read the entire letter and the quote from Robert Lewis Wilken’s “The Spirit of Early Christian Thought“.

Related post (2009) “Seize the moment

For an in-depth understanding of Hauerwas’s application of this to preaching that is theological, read the introduction to his (2009) book, A Cross-Shattered Church: Reclaiming the theological heart of preaching.

Introductory Essay to John Owen’s Death of Death in the Death of Christ –J. I. Packer
It is hoped that this reprint will find itself readers of a different spirit. There are signs today of a new upsurge of interest in the theology of the Bible: a new readiness to test traditions, to search the Scriptures and to think through the faith. It is to those who share this readiness that Owen’s treatise is offered, in the belief that it will help us in one of the most urgent tasks facing Evangelical Christendom today—the recovery of the gospel.

There is no doubt that Christianity today is in a state of perplexity and unsettlement. In such matters as the practice of evangelism, the teaching of holiness, the building up of local church life, the pastor’s dealing with souls and the exercise of discipline, there is evidence of widespread dissatisfaction with things as they are and of equally widespread uncertainty as to the road ahead. This is a complex phenomenon, to which many factors have contributed; but, if we go to the root of the matter, we shall find that these perplexities are all ultimately due to our having lost our grip on the biblical Gospel.
Without realizing it, we have during the past century bartered that gospel for a substitute product which, though it looks similar enough in points of detail, is as a whole a decidedly different thing. Hence our troubles; for the substitute product does not answer the ends for which the authentic gospel has in past days proved itself so mighty.

 

The new gospel conspicuously fails to produce deep reverence, deep repentance, deep humility, a spirit of worship, a concern for the church. Why? We would suggest that the reason lies in its own character and content. It fails to make men God-centered in their thoughts and God-fearing in their hearts because this is not primarily what it is trying to do. One way of stating the difference between it and the old gospel is to say that it is too exclusively concerned to be “helpful” to man—to bring peace, comfort, happiness, satisfaction—and too little concerned to glorify God.

The old gospel was “helpful,” too—more so, indeed, than is the new—but (so to speak) incidentally, for its first concern was always to give glory to God. It was always and essentially a proclamation of Divine sovereignty in mercy and judgment, a summons to bow down and worship the mighty Lord on whom man depends for all good, both in nature and in grace. Its center of reference was unambiguously God. But in the new gospel the center of reference is man. This is just to say that the old gospel was religious in a way that the new gospel is not. Whereas the chief aim of the old was to teach men to worship God, the concern of the new seems limited to making them feel better. The subject of the old gospel was God and His ways with men; the subject of the new is man and the help God gives him. There is a world of difference. The whole perspective and emphasis of gospel preaching has changed.

From this change of interest has sprung a change of content, for the new gospel has in effect reformulated the biblical message in the supposed interests of “helpfulness.” Accordingly, the themes of man’s natural inability to believe, of God’s free election being the ultimate cause of salvation, and of Christ dying specifically for His sheep, are not preached. These doctrines, it would be said, are not “helpful”; they would drive sinners to despair, by suggesting to them that it is not in their own power to be saved through Christ. (The possibility that such despair might be salutary is not considered; it is taken for granted that it cannot be, because it is so shattering to our self-esteem.)

 

However this may be (and we shall say more about it later), the result of these omissions is that part of the biblical gospel is now preached as if it were the whole of that gospel; and a half-truth masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth. Thus, we appeal to men as if they all had the ability to receive Christ at any time; we speak of His redeeming work as if He had done no more by dying than make it possible for us to save ourselves by believing; we speak of God’s love as if it were no more than a general willingness to receive any who will turn and trust; and we depict the Father and the Son, not as sovereignly active in drawing sinners to themselves, but as waiting in quiet impotence “at the door of our hearts” for us to let them in. It is undeniable that this is how we preach; perhaps this is what we really believe.

But it needs to be said with emphasis that this set of twisted half-truths is something other than the biblical gospel. The Bible is against us when we preach in this way; and the fact that such preaching has become almost standard practice among us only shows how urgent it is that we should review this matter. To recover the old, authentic, biblical gospel, and to bring our preaching and practice back into line with it, is perhaps our most pressing present need. And it is at this point that John Owen’s treatise on redemption can give us help.

( from J.I.Packer’s Introductory Essay to The Death of Death, 1959)

( continue reading the essay here )

Related Essay: The Old Cross and the New Cross – A.W.Tozer (print version)

 

 

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