Monday, July 31, 2006

The Everlasting Righteousness

Recently a dear friend came over to our house and as we were talking he reminded me that I had recommended to him Horatious Bonar's The Everlasting Righteousness. And he wanted to let me know what a wonderful recommendation it was. It was also a reminder to me of the jewel that Bonar's work is and I would benefit from a revisit with this dear friend. In fact, all of evangelicalism could use a visit from Bonar. Here is just one of multiple reasons.

Most Christians with whom you speak will tell you that they are saved by their faith. In other words, they believe that their exercising of faith saved them. Obviously this is understood to mean their faith is Christ, and is well taken. However, our faith in and of itself has no power to save or to keep. The glory of the gospel is that it is outside of us, that Christ is our salvation and security. It is not our faith that saves us, but rather it is Jesus Christ who saves. Here is how Bonar states it:

Faith is not our physician; it only brings us to the Physician. It is not even our medicine; it only administers the medicine, divinely prepared by him who "heals all our diseases."

Faith is not our savior. It was not faith that was born at Bethlehem and died on Golgotha for us.

Faith is not perfection. Yet only by perfection - either our own or another's - can we be saved.

Faith is not satisfaction to God. In no sense and in no aspect can faith be said to satisfy God or to satisfy the law. Yet, if it is to be our righteousness, it must satisfy.

Faith is not Christ, nor the cross of Christ. Faith is not the blood, nor the sacrifice. It is not the altar, nor the laver, nor the mercy-seat, nor the incense. It does not work, but accepts a work done ages ago; it does not wash, but leads us to the fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness. It does not create; it merely links us to the new thing which was created with the "everlasting righteousness" was brought in (Dan. 9:24).

This work is full of wonderful, biblical, theological insights into this doctrine which Calvin called the "principal hinge of religion" and which Luther described as the "doctrine by which the church stands or falls." Bonar's classic work is one of the best works on Justification by Faith Alone, even while it is also one of the first. With all the discussion around the New Perspective on Paul and new fangled ideas about justification by faith, Bonar is a vivid reminder that what's true is usually not new. The old truths that have stood the test of time are always the best.

Can these truths be stated in modern language so as to make them more accessible to our time? Yes. Can they be positioned and deposited in mediums that are more relevant to the our cultural conditioning? Yes. Yet, while the container may change the content is still the same. Thus, though Bonar wrote his classic work over 130 years ago, the contents are so full of biblical theology that one would be remiss not to take it up and read. And then do more than read, even promote and teach this wonderful truth of the glory of Christ in our salvation. It is guaranteed to encourage you unto your everlasting rest because of the imputation of His Everlasting Righteousness.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Anthony Bradley on the Kingdom of God

Over at The Resurgence you can hear, or better yet watch, Anthony Bradley's message on Beyond Brokenness: How Jacked Up Punks Will Change the World, which he delivered at this years Reform and Resurge Conference in Seattle.

Piper on the Emerging Church

The guys over at the 2006 Desiring God National Conference blog has an audio clip of John Piper commenting on the Emerging Church. Piper's take on the movement is interesting and on point (even though they call it "emergent" when they should call it "emerging" :-).

Thursday, July 27, 2006

I'm Reformed But...

Michael Leach has added his last installment to his series Things that Bother Me. Also, he has a summary of the First Annual Stone Mountain Conference on Reformed Theology. I had the distinct pleasure and honor of participating in this conference. I must say that is was an encouragement to see people come to such an event, and to see the participation during the question and answer time. Leach is to be commended for his efforts. We all look forward to what the conference will blossom into being.

God and Golf

As I look back over my early childhood, I have but two major regrets. The first is that I was not introduced to God at an earlier age. The second is like unto the first, that I was not introduced to golf at an earlier age. Now some of you may be taken back by the connection I make between God and golf (those who know the game would not be surprised :-). However, I am more and more inclined to believe that above all other sports, golf is the game most reflective of our journey to God, even our pilgrimage to heaven.

The longer I play the game of golf, the more I am impressed with its challenge, its depth, its beauty, its unattainable goal of perfection in this life. Ironically, the longer I walk with God and seek to manifest the Christian life the more I am impressed with it challenges, its depth, its beauty, and its unattainable goal of perfection in this life. Golf is so much like the Christian life that it’s scary. One has to wonder if it was not designed in heaven before the rebellion of the angels and the fall of humanity. This would explain our insatiable pursuit of its perfection and our utter frustration in not attaining it. This may also be the reason why I know the perfect round is out there, I just have not found it :-). Whether this is true or not, I am convinced of the striking parallels between golf and the Christian life. Here are just a few.

1. Golf is a game you have to play to really appreciate and love. The Christian life is a life one must enter into in order to appreciate and love. Those who do not know the game of golf can not appreciate the genius, the nuances, the subtleties of breaks, the failures and the successes of the game. Indeed, those who do not know the Christian life can not appreciate the genius, the nuances, the subtleties of breaks, the failures and the successes.

2. Patience is the name of the game in golf. In the Christian life, patience is a virtue all God’s children must exhibit. The game of golf is not a sprint. It is the slow plodding of stringing good shots together while having to overcome obstacles strategically placed in your way. Any one who has walked the walk of faith for any length of time can testify to this truth.

3. The more one plays the game of golf, the better one should get. Likewise, Christianity is a walk that is to get better with time. A good golfer will know more about the game this year than he did last year, and thus in someway should be better. Similarly, a faithful Christian will know more about God and even himself this year than he did last year and thus should be the better for it.

4. Fellowship is an indispensable aspect of the game of golf. In like manner, fellowship in the Christian life goes without saying. Golf is a game to be shared with others in conversation and even in spurring one another on to do better. Such is the essence of the Christian life. We do not live unto ourselves but rather live in community where we enjoy and encourage, even challenge, one another to do better.

5. In golf you are your worse enemy. The longer I live the Christian life the more this truth comes home to me. Indeed, I have no one to blame for my wayward shots than me. Likewise, while my enemies may include the world and the devil, these are only successful against me in so far as I provide them with the ammunition to use. It is my own sin that hinders me more than the sins of others.

Those who play golf understand it to be a passion. The difference between games is simple actually. You see, people play basketball, much as they play with the toys of this world. Yet golf is a pursuit. One must pursue golf, even as one is reminded that he is to pursue God because God has so graciously pursued him. Uh oh,….I think I hear my clubs pursuing me. Gotta go!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Studying Pilgrim's Progress

Much of my reading of late has been in and on John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress. As you know, I am leading a study through this classic on Wednesday evenings at our church here in Atlanta. The attendance and response has been of much encouragement to me and the pastor. Particularly edifying to me has been some of the material I have had the chance to read and use for my own preparation. Here are the list of titles I have read or am currently reading for our study. Perhaps you will find them useful in your study of Bunyan as well.

The Pilgrims Progress (Barbour Publishing 1998, Hardcover). This is the edition I use for my own personal study of Pilgrim's Progress. It is the complete, unabridged text from Bunyan. It maintains Bunyan's language so some may find it hard to follow at places as some of the references are antiquated. Nonetheless, I find the old English rather poetic and find it more enchanting as I imagine Bunyan's own words coming to me, not some translators. It has Scripture references in the margins.

The New Pilgrim's Progress (Discovery House Publishers 1989, Softcover). This is the edition that we have given out to the church. It is a modern language translation with updated text and helpful notes. Many will find Bunyan's original language discouraging on first attempt and thus may find this modern translation an excellent introduction to the classic. However, I highly recommend that eventually you read it in its most pure form.

Little Pilgrim's Progress (Moody Publishing). It has been a joy to be able to introduce the children in our church to this classic by way of this translation by Helen Taylor. They have been able to follow along and even engage in the discussion. This is an excellent way to introduce the younger generation to this timeless book. Prayerfully they will take up unabridged volume in time.

Pilgrim's Progress: Themes and Issues by Barry Horner. This book has proved to be a most helpful and informative resource for my study. It more than any other has caused me to want to know more by looking more intently into the allegory and discovering the truths contained therein. Horner has researched Bunyan's classic well and is well versed in the nuances of the story and the scholarship of its interpretation. Any student serious about knowing Pilgrim's Progress would do well to read this volume. Also, Horner has a website dedicated to his study of John Bunyan, Bunyan Ministries. Very good.

Pictures From Pilgrim's Progress by Charles Spurgeon. What can I say about Spurgeon that has not already been said by countless others. Spurgeon is said to have read The Pilgrim's Progress 100 times!!! This should give us something of the significance of this work and should make us want to read what Spurgeon has to say about a book he held so dear. Spurgeon personalized Christian and knew him because he knew himself. We all could be so careful.

Bunyan's Characters by Alexander Whyte. Whyte is not as well known as Spurgeon is today, yet in his day in Scotland, he was a much respected and admired preacher. He was considered one of the finest biographical preachers anyone had ever heard, and Bunyan was one of his favorite topics. His character studies of Pilgrim's Progress continue to express his appreciation for Bunyan and his biblical and theological knowledge of Bunyan's classic work.

All-in-One Curriculum for The Pilgrim's Progess (Answers in Genesis, 2006). Here is a comprehensive curriculum for the study of The Pilgrim's Progress. Not only is it a full length illustrated text in large print and hardcover, but there are printable discussion questions subtle for all ages in the book and on an accompanying CD. Also, there are indepth character analyses and annotated Scripture references. This is an excellent resource for anyone desiring to teach or even consider in-depth this wonderful piece of literature.

Friday, July 21, 2006

New Publishing Venture

This appears to be great news. Our brother, Joshua Parker, over at Totally Reformed, has begun a new book publishing venture Totally Reformed Publications. It is an upstart venture, yet it seems to have great potential and the kind of thing the burgeoning Reformed African-American community could definitely use. Stop by and encourage him in his efforts. Lord willing this will be a start of something great. God's best to you, JP.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

A Pearl of Great Price

When you click on my profile, you will notice that first on my list of favorite books is The Christian's Reasonable Service by Wilhelmus a' Brakel. If you click on the link for the book, you will find that apparently I am the only one who lists The Christian's Reasonable Service as a favorite. Though this is unfortunate, it is not surprising. We tend to be a "right-now" type of people. We want the latest, updated, new and improved edition of things. Besides, we are so inundated with newly published books about issues that are seemingly more relevant and definitely more faddish, that the older, matured books get left behind (no pun intended).

Nevertheless, I consider it a blessing to have been introduced to a' Brakel quite a few years ago and have been encouraged and enriched by one of the pre-eminent pastor/theologians of the Second Reformation. I could not recommend this work any higher. I particularly want to recommend the work to the Reformed African-American community.

As the Reformed African-American community continues to grow and even establish its voice, it would be most beneficial that we articulate theology within our context, but not without historical reference. In other words, let us express Reformed theology without developing a "deformed" theology. One of the ways we do this is to make sure our theology is consistent with the theology of those who have gone before, even with those that have stood the test of time. For me, The Christian's Reasonable Service fits the bill. The Christian’s Reasonable Service is my favorite systematic treatment of theology because I believe it sets forth Reformed theology in a most biblical, historical and most importantly experiential form. One writer on a’Brakel says:

The uniqueness of a’Brakel’s work lies in the fact that it is more than a systematic theology…a’Brakel’s intent in writing is inescapable: He intensely wishes that the truth expounded may become an experiential reality in the hearts of those who read. In a masterful way he establishes the crucial relationship between objective truth and the subjective experience of that truth.

Indeed, experiencing the truth is what Reformed theology is all about. As African-Americans we need not be duped by the a traditional Reformed theological community that is too often comprised of the dry, stoic, intellectualized, and emotionally-paranoid. On the contrary, true Reformed theology is experiential, charged with emotional content based in the clear reverential content of the character of God. Or as my man Dee put it recently, "freedom expression with governance."

This is what I read in a'Brakel. His is a theology full of the governances of the Bible and the Reformed tradition, yet there is the welcoming, even encouragement of this freedom of expression. Even in preaching. For a'Brakel preaching is never to be an intellectual exercise where the young man rehearses last night cram session with Berkhof. On the contrary, the faithful preacher will make “his astute theological acumen subservient to the glory of God and the spiritual welfare of His church.” He makes this point when he writes in his instruction to ministers:

He [the minister] ought to use all his scholarship to formulate the matters to be presented, in order that he might express them in the clearest and most powerful manner. While using his scholarship, however, he must conceal his scholarship in the pulpit. Nonetheless, when necessary he will cause his scholarship to bear on an argument, thereby proving himself to be a qualified theologian.

I whole-heartedly commend a'Brakel's four volume set to you. It is full of pastoral and practically theology. I have found it to be a pearl of great price and would recommend that you sell all to get it.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A Word of Encouragement

Forgive me if this is a bit self-serving, but this morning my wife has a post that I believe is well worth reading. In Dew Drops From Heaven, she reminds us just how important it is to encourage one another with heart-felt words of love. She even has a quote from John Bunyan, that if nothing else, makes the post worth reading :-). However, I do believe you will find her words spot-on and you might be encouraged to encourage someone while it is still day.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Reformed But...

Micheal Leach has posted the third part in his ongoing series on Things That Bother Me, Part III. This time he seeks to make the case against those who claim to be "reformed, but pentecostal." You've got to read this one.

On to First Baptist of Grand Cayman

Our friend and dear brother Thabiti Anyabwile is sharing his thought on his last weekend at Capitol Hill Baptist Church as he transitions to pastor First Baptist of Grand Cayman. Surely Capitol Hill will feel the loss of TA, but will rejoice to know that God's people in the Cayman Islands will have a voice of grace and truth amongst them. You can read his thoughts on Things I Learned While at Capitol Hill Baptist Church.

Our prayers are with TA and his family as they make this transition. Be encouraged my brother. Believe God for great things for His glory.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Blog Roll Please

Today I am adding a blog to my Good Blogs list and a ministry to my Links list. To the ministry list I am adding Voddie Baucham. And to the blogs list I am adding Anthony Bradley. These are two Reformed African-American voices that we all need to hear. They are both on the front lines dealing with issues of substance with theological insight and cultural relevance. Anthony is a professor at Covenant Theological Seminary and Voddie will be a plenary speaker at the Desiring God National Conference in September of this year. Check them out.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Pilgrim Comes to the Wicket Gate

The second installment of the summer long series on The Pilgrim's Progress is available. You can locate the link in the side bar to listen to an overview of Christian gaining entrance into the Wicket Gate.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Reformed, But...(part II)

Leach is continuing his series today on "Those Things That Bother Him." It's getting interesting.

Monday, July 10, 2006

How Sweet and awful Is The Place

This day, as I study in preparation for this week's message from The Pilgrims Progress, I am reminded by Bunyan of the wondrous love of God in His electing grace. The doctrine of God's sovereign election runs throughout Bunyan's allegory, even as it played such an indispensable role in Bunyan's life. It was said of Bunyan, that his Calvinism was a healthy, robust, manly variety. Foundation to this theological vigor was Bunyan's understanding of God's Sovereign Election. Without a doubt it is that doctrine that is sweetest to the ear of the saint and most glorious to the work of God. It is that which humbles the human heart and exalts the mind of Christ. It is that which gives most comfort to the weary traveler while being most fitting for the God of creation. Even as Christian was pulled in through the Wicket-Gate by Goodwill, so too are all Christians snatched, as it was, plucked as brands from the fire (Zech. 3:2). Isaac Watts summed it up unforgettably in the words of How Sweet and Awful is the Place:
How sweet and awful is the place
With Christ within the doors,
While everlasting love displays
The choicest of her stores.
While all our hearts and all our songs
Join to admire the feast,
Each of us cry, with thankful tongues,
"Lord, why was I a guest?"
"Why was I made to hear Thy voice,
And enter while there's room,
When thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come?"
'Twas the same love that spread the feast
That sweetly drew us in;
Else we had still refused to taste,
And perished in our sin.
Pity the nations, O our God,
Constrain the earth to come;
Send Thy victorious Word abroad,
And bring the strangers home.
We long to see Thy churches full,
That all the chosen race
May, with one voice and heart and soul,
Sing Thy redeeming grace.
Those who would rail against this glorious doctrine and find it contrary to their sensibilities, need only be reminded that their answers back against God's sovereign purposes are as insensible as is a lump of clay arguing from a potter's wheel (Rom. 9:20). No true Christian need find discouragement in the most encouraging doctrine ever revealed. Indeed, no true Christian really will. Like me, I pray you will take heart from this most wonderful, awe-inspiring, soul-mending, eye-opening, heart-warming and mind-altering doctrine. What a sweet and awesome place it is.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Reformed but...

I know it's a rarity, but Michael Leach is blogging again. This time he shares some thoughts on those things which cause him some consternation, namely the notion that some have when they say "I'm Reformed, but..."

Friday, July 07, 2006

Digging Driscoll from a Distance

I am not one who reads Christianity Today. I used to. But now it is too much like popular Christianity is today - weak, atheological, faddish, and feminized. Yet today I was directed (by Between Two Worlds) to an interview Christianity Today did online with Mark Driscoll entitled, Men Are From Mars Hill. I am really beginning to dig this Driscoll. I was very impressed with what he had to say in the interview and found myself resonating with most of his sentiments. A couple of weeks ago I received his book, Confessions of a Reformission Rev in the mail. It is in my next quorum of books to read. No, I am not becoming Emergent. I am only listening and learning. And right now I am really digging Driscoll from a distance. Check him out, if you have not already and let me know what you think.
Mark Driscoll is pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Encouraged by Courage

Courage is a virtue that the church is in much need of. This is particularly true among African-Americans. I know this because I find it in too low supply in my own heart. My prayers of late have been for courage and faith (Mark 9:24) to do those things that I sense God calling me to, but have walked far too gingerly upon that path. A couple of weeks ago, I was in a Leaders Meeting at our church and the pastor asked how each of us could be helped by the leadership team. When he got to me, my response was simple, I need others around me to be more courageous and faithful. This I pray would spur me on to see more of the same in my life. To this end, I have begun a study of courage and fear in the Bible, just to get a better sense of how God sees fear and develops courage in his people. I do believe it should prove quite profitable.
Now, with that said, how ironic that this morning I should read at Pure Church that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is not the model for faithful black preachers. My friends it takes courage to take on the African-American holy grail of the legacy of Saint King, and yet my brother FellowElder is right on point. Read his post and know that the predominantly African-American church is theologically and biblically anemic because it has so-called pastoral leaders who are more interested in liberal political machinations than they are in faithful gospel proclamations. I am more courageous today than I was yesterday because my brother FellowElder has faithfully encouraged me (1Thes. 5:11).

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Reformed African-Americans on the Move!

I am excited! I am more excited than I have ever been about being Reformed in the African-American context. Most people who know me would probably wonder how I could be any more excited than I already was. However, my previous excitement was due to the fact that I was brought to the light of Reformed truth by a inexplicably gracious God. Excitement for this mercy has not waned. Yet, today my excitement is not individualistic, rather it is more about our community of Reformed faith. You see, there is being laid a literary foundation for God having been so gracious. If there is going to be a sustained evangelical Reformed movement among African-Americans it must incorporate a corpus of literary works that establish who we are and give those who come behind us something to build upon.
For a long time it seemed that the lone evangelical Reformed African-American voice was that of Carl Ellis. We can not thank Carl enough for his courage and consistency in speaking to the issues facing African-Americans and for articulating a Reformed faith in this context. Today, the fruit of Carl's labors is being seen and even taken to new heights of Reformed thinking and insight. Thanks to Carl (and others, white and black) I was encouraged to write On Being Black and Reformed. However, my book was only meant to be a precursor to more and even better contributions to Christianity from Reformed African-Americans. Today the contributions are coming fast and furious and I can not be more excited.
For example, Sherard Burns, who contributed to the book A God Entranced Vision of All Things, is expected to publish a book in the next year. Thabiti Anyabwile is expected to have two books published within the next year. Michael Leach and Ken Jones are expecting to contribute to books on Reformed Theology within the next year, as well. How often have I gone to Reformed conferences and longed to see books on display from African-American minds and hearts. Soon my longing will be over as more and more of my brothers are putting pen to paper and we will hear how God is using their gifts for his glory. I am excited! Now our white Reformed brothers and sisters will have fewer excuses for not engaging with and learning from their Reformed African-American brothers and sisters. I am excited because soon our movement will be substantiated by a growing corpus of writings letting all know that this movement is historically, theologically and biblically consistent and sustainable. I am excited because Reformed African-Americans are on the Move. We are developing and sustaining conferences. We are planting and supporting churches. Now we are writing and publishing books. I don't know about you, but I am excited!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

"I Gotcho Pliable!"

The Pilgrim's Progress study is proving to be a most encouraging revisit to John Bunyan's heart and mind. Perhaps the most impressive aspects of Bunyan's story is his ability to develop characters - rich characters - in such a short span of time. Most of his characters are not on the pages of Pilgrim's Progress very long, and yet they live on in literary lore and more importantly in our minds. We can vividly and accurately identify many of the personalities in Pilgrims Progress with the personalities we see in our own lives. Arguably, Bunyan understood the Christian life, and indeed the human heart, as well as any post-apostolic (modern day apostles notwithstanding of course) human being ever has. This depth of insight is seen in how immediately we identify with Pilgrim and are able to relate much of Pilgrim's experience with our own. This was unforgettably driven home to me this morning.
This morning my son and I played a round of golf. The temperature was over 90 degrees by 10 o'clock. The humidity made the heat stick to your skin so that it felt like 190 degrees. I have a pull-cart on which I place my golf bag and am able to pull it around. My son has a carry-bag with a stand. He must carry his clubs on his shoulders from hole to hole (Now before you get all bent out of shape, let me tell you that when I was a boy we had to carry our bag up hill two miles in the sweltering summer heat just to set up a tee time to play the next day because we didn't have phones. But I digress). As you can imagine, by the time we were reaching our final holes, he was dragging behind. As I looked back at him to see where he was, he remarked to me, "It's easy for you, you don't have to carry a bag on your back. You can move faster than I can because like Pliable, you don't have a burden to carry." I chuckled and said, "Boy, I gotcho Pliable!"