Teachings

The Soul of the Solas

Blog, General, Tabletalk Magazine

It puzzles me deeply that so few are puzzled deeply by the paradox. We are so used to the befuddling language that we miss its befuddling nature. It ought to stop us in our tracks and arrest our attention, like those signs I see for Fifth Third Bank. Fifth Bank I could understand. Third Bank I could understand. I could understand them merging to become Fourth Bank. But Fifth Third Bank? What does that even mean? In like manner, how is it that when our spiritual ancestors, our theological heroes, set out to tell us one thing, they ended up telling us five things? Suppose I had lived in a cave for the last five hundred years and then met someone who wanted to get me up to speed on the Reformation and what I should believe. What if they said: “There are five things. The first one is sola…”? Would…

The Kingdom is Now

Blog, General, Tabletalk Magazine

I am deeply grateful to my Old Testament professor. Though I was young and foolish while in seminary, I have, by God’s grace, been growing less young and less foolish over time. I used to argue with him about as often as I now look back with thanks in my heart. He not only taught me how to understand the Old Testament, but at the same time how to understand the Bible. He taught me that the Bible is one book. There are two key elements I learned from him that touch directly on the issue of the relationship of Israel and the church. First, he taught that if we want to understand what a text means to us, we first have to understand what the text must have meant to its original audience. The second element could be understood as a corollary to the first—never assume the Bible practices mortar-shell…

Knowledge Without Zeal

Blog, General, Tabletalk Magazine

When Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, describes the church as the body of Christ, he speaks more wisely than we fools tend to hear. As is the habit of the modern evangelical church, we take the full, rich, and, indeed, beautiful instructions on how we are to live our lives together for the kingdom and reduce them down to something true but banal, safe, and reasonable. Paul tells us we are the body of Christ, and we hear, “Be nice to each other.” It is a slight improvement if this message reminds us that the body is filled with different people with different strengths, all of which are needful. That my ears can’t see is not an objection they voice; that my ears hear does not make them better than my eyes. Paul makes this point, of course, because whatever parts of the body we may be, we…

The Son Rising in the East

Blog, General, Tabletalk Magazine

The early church faced at least two distinct and competing enemies. While Jesus walked the earth and after, the great challenge to the kingdom of God was found both in the Roman Empire and in Judaism. An armed force that was, though given to emperor worship, essentially secular and a false religion put their differences aside to eradicate a faith built around a King who had been given all authority in heaven and on earth. I was reminded of this odd juxtaposition several years ago when I had the opportunity to travel to Burma to teach and train a group of godly pastors and elders who ended up teaching me. Burma is a country that is also in the grip of two great enemies of the reign of Jesus Christ, two fearsome institutions that will not kiss the Son (Ps. 2). Most people know that Burma is a military dictatorship….

Castles in the Sand

Blog, Tabletalk Magazine

There are, when we disagree, almost always two disagreements. Most of the time the smaller disagreement is the bigger one. Consider election. There are some in the church who believe that God chooses who will believe His gospel. There are others who believe God sees beforehand who will believe. This, on the surface, seems to be the root of the loss of peace between these two groups. The second disagreement, however, is over this question: just how important an issue is this? Though there are surely exceptions, by and large those who don’t believe in election are not known for zealously, aggressively not believing in election. Most don’t meet a new Christian and seek to steer the conversation to election. Those of us who do believe in election, on the other hand, believe it to be an issue of great importance. Did we not so believe, were we able to believe…

Someone is Wrong on the Internet

Blog, General, Tabletalk Magazine

It takes two to tango, and that doesn’t even include the band. Our choices, our behaviors, are rarely as discreet as we think they are. Not only do our decisions bleed into our other decisions, they touch on other people’s lives, more often than not. No man is an island; neither is any man a peninsula. First, consider gossip. If gossip is spoken in the woods and no one hears, does it still make a mess? Guarding our tongues is important. But we need to guard our ears as well. Without an audience, gossip dies on the vine. It isn’t gossip when I know something you don’t. It isn’t gossip when you find out what I knew first. It’s only gossip when I get to be the one telling you. Ego and pride drive the tongue and open the ear. The same is true of controversy. In the prototypical schoolyard fight, there…

Pleasures Forevermore

Blog, Tabletalk Magazine

“Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.” So the wisdom of Agur, found in Proverbs 30, reminds us. Though sin knows no tax brackets — the poor can be greedy and the rich envious — peculiar circumstances tend to produce peculiar temptations. Agur fears that should God lead him into poverty, he might be tempted to steal and thus profane the name of God. He fears in turn that should God lead him into great riches, he might forget God. He asks God to protect him, through His providence, from both temptations. Many of us,…

Enlightened Self-Interest

Blog, Tabletalk Magazine

The last Saturday in October is perhaps my favorite day of the year. The Southwest Virginia church I served for more than a dozen years has a grand celebration every year on that day. The people celebrate the grace of God in bringing us the Reformation, which began October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses on the church door in Wittenberg. The celebration includes a telling of the story of Martin Luther to the children around a bonfire with s’mores. (I told the story when we lived there.) It includes contests in cooking chili and in cooking pies. It includes a grand street fair, with fresh fried doughnuts, barbeque, and hot french fries. All Ninety-Five of the theses are recited. Children and adults sing and play their instruments. And as the day draws to a close, the people dance. They dance with each other. They dance before…

Smart is Not a Fruit

Tabletalk Magazine

From Tabletalk magazine, February 2012 Leave it to Reformed people to miss the point. When Paul describes the body of Christ as a body, part of which includes hands, ears, and so forth, we are quick to mark our territory — we are the brain of the church. We are the ones who are so rightly careful about our theology. The great minds of the church have been Reformed, and one could certainly argue that the greatest mind, theological or otherwise, ever to grace our North American shores was one Jonathan Edwards. There is no question the man had a towering intellect. We would be wise to sit at his feet and learn from him. Edwards on the will is unanswerable genius. Edwards on the Trinity will make your head spin. Edwards was a titanic mind whose brilliance was overshadowed only by his earnest and passionate heart. Should we embrace the…

Eyes to See

Tabletalk Magazine

It was my habit — my sophomoric habit — to proudly argue from my ignorance that we ought always to consider last things last. That is, recognizing the great difficulty in grasping the meaning of the end times and the final book of God’s Word, I thought discretion the better part of valor, and I suggested formerly that we can wait to figure out what the end means until after we have mastered all the other important stuff, like the stuff I was interested in and with which I felt reasonably competent. I was awakened from my eschatological slumbers, however, not by finally finding a crystal clear exposition of the issues but by simply seeing the title of the book. If God revealed truths about Jesus to John, and John, by the power of the Spirit, is revealing those same truths to the church, it is not humility but arrogance that…