Sunday, June 29, 2008

Review of John Gerstner--Jonathan Edwards: Evangelist

Author: John Gerstner

Pages: 192 pgs

Publisher: Soli Deo Gloria

Price: 8.95

Genre: Theology/Evangelism/Puritan

Quick Summary:

One of the primary critiques of Puritanism and folks like Jonathan Edwards is a lack of evangelism and evangelistic appeal in their sermons. Is it possible that the greatest Calvinistic theologian may also be one of the most evangelistic preachers? In this work John Gerstner attempts to systematize the evangelistic methods of Jonathan Edwards.

The first four chapters are Gerstner’s attempt to justify, as well as reconcile, the diverse views of Edwards. The major part of the book is comprised with the exploration of Edwards’ doctrine of seeking. After fully developing Edwards’ view of seeking Gerstner address other issues such as “faith alone”, “backsliding”, “regeneration”, and “preservation of the saints”.

What I Liked

If the reader desires a more full understanding of the Puritan (and Edwardsean) doctrine of seeking then this is an excellent resource. It is often difficult to grasp the relation between sovereign election and calling sinners to repentance. This book will give the reader a better (although still not complete) understanding of such doctrines. As it says on the back cover this is an excellent resource for those “desiring a theology of the greatest of all the Puritan divines”. Gerstner does an adequate job of systematizing Edwards’ doctrine of “steps to salvation”.

It is also helpful that Gerstner brings in many quotes from Edwards, and does so in a manner that is still quite readable. It is an enjoyable read but also not a light read.

What I Disliked

At times Gerstner interacts with the Edwards’ views. It is my opinion that the book would have been helped along with more interaction from Gerstner. The subjects are often so deep and seemingly contradictory that the reader would be helped by thoughtful interaction—as well as Scriptural defenses of Edwards’ belief. This is, perhaps, due to the pointed focus of Gerstner and such a book was not his intent. Nonetheless, it would have been more beneficial to hear more from our collaborator.

Gerstner also uses the sermon more than the written text of Edwards. Edwards was a man of orderly thought. Every sermon was thought out, but perhaps not as thorough as the theological writings of Edwards. It would have been helpful to see the development of Edwards’ theology. Footnotes and a bibliography are also not included in this work and would have been quite helpful.

Should You Buy It?

The student of Edwards (and Puritan theology) does not want to miss this work. It systematizes the thought of Edwards in a quite helpful way. It also gives help to the student in formulating his own views of the “steps to salvation”. This is also a very difficult read. It may not be the most beneficial to the unlearned. Chances are that if you are reading this review you have some exposure to Edwards, if so then I would recommend this book. If you are reading this review and looking for an introductory to Edwards then look elsewhere; perhaps Iain Murray’s A New Biography on Edwards or George Marsden’s classic biography.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

We are Big Babies!

This is not a political post, although it will touch ground in that realm. Honestly, I have very little care about politics (you can call me a bad Southern Baptist). My passion is the gospel, not legislation. On with the story.

This morning while purchasing my customary biscuits and gravy at Casey's (they are amazing by the way), I overheard the conversation of the man in front of me. Apparently because of the flood he has to get his mail in our town instead of his local post office. The Saverton community about 10 miles East has been hit pretty hard with the flood. They moved the post office to New London. So, this man was complaining about the $10 he has to spend on gas just to get his mail. He, half-jokingly, had asked the post office lady if they would pay him for the cost of gas. He was in line at Casey's belly-aching about the price of gas (which is quite ridiculous I might add) and his post office being moved, telling us how ridiculous our senators are for not stepping in and doing something.

Now take this man's complaint to Africa or another struggling third world country. Whine to them about having to pay for gas (luxury) to put in your car (luxury) to get the mail (luxury) that they no longer deliver to your home (luxury). Now, hand them a $20 bill (blessing) and get a $10 bill back (blessing) and walk (blessing) out the door to your wife (blessing) and children (blessing) griping about the cost of gas. What has happened is that we view the luxuries that this country offers us as absolute necessity and something that we are owed--when in fact it is all of grace.

I understand there is another side to this coin. I know that our government makes mistakes and I know that there are billionaires padding their pockets by gouging us poor folk at the gas pump. And I do know that the simple solution is not "don't drive anymore". Because of the location of jobs many either have to drive or lose their source of income. I understand; my $20,000 per year (blessing) no longer stretches quite like it used to. But I also know that my job, my house, my wife, my child, my car, my ability to walk, my ability to work, all of these are blessings from God. I also know that if every one of those ceased to be given to me that the Lord would be absolutely just in all of his actions. I would grieve. I would hurt. And I would probably even sin quicker than Job. But it does not change the truth that everything we have is a blessing and a benefit of grace.

All too often I am guilty of this same offense. It's a cloudy day and I wish it was sunny--so, I whine. I want to play baseball and it gets rained out--I whine. I have a headache--I whine. I feel like I am getting too busy--I whine. I too am a big cry-baby. Instead of viewing every moment as grace I falsely assume that I deserve better. Ughhh, the agony of not being fully redeemed (see, even that was whiny).

Here is my point, quit crying. If we are going to open our mouths we ought to do it to praise God for breath. Stop treating grace like it is owed to us and instead rejoice in God's benevolence.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

You Never Know When

Yesterday was my wife's birthday. I felt a little sick, but was determined to rough it so that we could spend the day together. After our morning prayer meeting I drove to Wal-Mart to buy presents. I called my wife to let her know what time I would be home, and for her to be ready because we were going out. I closed my cell phone. It immediately rings. It's my dad. He sounds shaken up. They had just taken my grandpa in the ambulance to the hospital. It seemed at first like he was dehydrated and once on IV's for a while he would be better. But, 24 hours later he is in eternity.

At this point we have no idea exactly what it was that he died from. Something with his intestines. Maybe his heart.

Tonight is youth group. I am excited to preach the gospel tonight. Yet, I am physically and emotionally exhausted. Grandpa was alive and seemed well at our family reunion Saturday. Now he's dead; a reminder of the grace of God in giving us 87 years and a reminder of the gravity of sin. I am not certain where my grandfather will spend eternity. I know I shared the gospel with him. I know that he seemed to understand. And I know that God is very merciful. But also know that sin is real and God is just. My with you, me, and anyone else...has only one hope--Jesus Christ. May He be glorified in this time.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Review of Thomas Watson--The Godly Man's Picture

Author: Thomas Watson

Pages: 252 pages

Publisher: Banner of Truth

Price: 6.40

Genre: Christian Living/Puritan

Quick Summary:

Thomas Watson is one of the most enjoyable authors of the Puritan era; he combines rich insight with captivating illustrations. One would expect, then, to breeze through 252 pages of such wonderfully written material. This would be the case if Watson’s words were not as soul-searching and penetrating. Watson is straightforward and calls sin exactly what it is. He does not lower the bar of holiness but paints a picture of the godly man as he ought to be.

After slowly reading and thinking deeply upon Watson’s 24 characteristics one is left feeling the weight of sin and longing for grace. I found myself wishing to hear from a dear Richard Sibbes, to remind me that my feeble spark of grace is enough. To my surprise a few chapters after exhorting us towards godliness Watson comforts us with the gracious words of Matthew 12:20. He, too, reminds us that Christ will not “crush grace in its infancy”.

And finally, Watson closes by reminding us of our union with Christ. It is from this union that the believer is made godly and considered godly. Watson comes full circle in this book. He begins by pointing us to the Cross. Then he paints a picture of what we ought to be in response. And finally, he points us back to the Cross for repentance and cleansing because we are often not what we ought to be.

What I Liked:

The word pictures that Watson employs are mind awakening. He paints pictures to help the believer think thoughts he never thought before. This makes such a soul-piercing work actually enjoyable. One can scarcely open the book without finding a metaphor on the page you opened to. This causes Watson to be remembered and very quotable.

Had the book ended without the final two chapters it would not have been as effective. However, had the book only contained the last two chapters it would not have been as effective. Watson does a wonderful job of raising the bar of holiness where it ought to be, then pointing to the grace of Christ when we fail. In reading through this book I felt the weight of sin and yet at the same time the depths of grace.

What I Disliked:

Watson does do a good job of providing grace and pointing to Christ. However, because this book is so soul-piercing one finds it difficult to get to page 222 without receiving comfort. It is occasionally hinted at throughout the book. As it stands, though, this book could be applied quite dangerously. If the believer goes about trying to attain the characteristics Watson mentions, and paint the picture of godliness himself, then he will find much despair. Therefore, it would have been more effective in my opinion for Watson to have paused occasionally and pointed us back to the Savior and to the powerful working of the Holy Spirit.

Because of this I would suggest three different ways to read it for maximum benefit. First, this would be a wonderful book to read alongside a book like The Bruised Reed, or a Cross-Centered CJ Mahaney type of book. Secondly, one could read a few sections of chapter four…stop…let the weight of sink in…and then go to chapter 11 or 12. Thirdly, sit down and read the entire thing in one or two sittings.

Should You Buy It?

I would certainly suggest this. Watson’s beautiful way of putting things is enough to recommend this book for your collection. If Watson’s words are heeded and they are used to point to the Cross and inspire in holiness then certainly this book is well worth whatever time you put into it.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Refocusing Student Ministry

A couple of weeks ago I made mention of Lifeway's new promotional program which contained this statement:

"By focusing on students and helping them become all God wants them to be, student ministry leaders, coming alongside of parents, can help students know God, own their faith, and make their faith known"

We had decent discussion on this, although I would have welcomed far more discussion. My question was whether or not you agree with the statement. It seems that some liked parts of it, and others pointed out a few things that are not so good. Let me attempt to put a few thoughts down. First the positive:
  1. The statement of "coming alongside parents" is very welcome. The sheer acknowledgment of the importance of parents in the lives of students shows a major growth in "cutting edge" student ministry. Finally youth ministries are being encouraged to not only involve parents but assist parents in leading their own children. This is welcome indeed, perhaps we will see less lone ranger youth ministries that are divorced from parents and the local body in which it serves.
  2. "Owning their faith" is also a pleasing development in student ministries. In years past we would have heard know God and make God known. Of course that "knowing God" step was another way of saying "get saved". So, the principle was "get saved then go get others saved". We have seen the deadly results of this. Students really never got to know God. So, focusing on students owning their faith is welcome.

Now the negative:

  1. The first four words of this promotional pamphlet, "By focusing on students", tells me that nothing much has changed in "cutting edge" student ministry. Maybe this is being too harsh, if so forgive me. To me, such a statement negates everything they say after it. How do you suggest "coming alongside parents" and still "focusing on students"? Does this mean that you work with mom and dad to make much of their kid? If so, that is idolatry. More than likely it is marrying the old idea (you've gotta focus on the students) with the new--actually classical and biblical--idea (parents are the primary educators of students). What happens in this case is that "coming alongside parents" is given lip service and student minstry continues to focus on students.
  2. Furthermore, is it really a good idea to "focus on the students"? Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean that we should not be concerned for students, that our heart should not beat for students, that we should not love students, that we should "just preach the Word" without looking at the crowd. No, we ought to model Jesus in this regard. He loved people. Paul loved people. Look at Romans 9:1-5. Paul basically said, "I'd go to hell for you". This ought to be our heart. But our focus should not be on those we minister to. Our focus ought to be on God. If our primary driving force is students then do we not by our example neuter everything we tell them about "knowing God, owning their faith, and making God known"? The key to student ministry, as it is with any ministry, is being so enthralled with Jesus that you "struggle with all his energy that he powerfully works" within you. The more the leader (parent or student minister) is enamored with the glory of Jesus Christ the more that will catch.

Until we understand that curriculum, preaching, teaching, missions, fellowship, worship, and anything else you want to add, is to be about proclaiming and relishing in the excellencies of Christ we will continue to be focused on man to the peril of their souls. And I mean giving that more than lip service. I mean what John Owen said "If the Word does not dwell with power in us, it will not pass with power from us".

I will be blunt. And maybe this is too either/or and it ought to be a both/and. If so, then I deserve the rebuke. But my thought is that we are so entrenched in man-centered semi-Pelagianism that a "both/and" is next to impossible. Simply put, what we need is not Lifeway curriculum to help us get students to know God, own their faith, and make God known. We need student ministers and parents (as well as students) set ablaze by the Spirit of God, and so enamored with Jesus Christ that He bubbles out of us and the fire he has cast in our soul causes sparks to fly onto another so that they too are lit aflame by our glorious God.

Perhaps that is what it means to Know, Own, and make Known. But it doesn't happen by focusing on students. It happens by focusing on Jesus.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Sermons from Colossians

I realize that I am quite behind on posting past sermons. There are four new sermons on Colossians that I have preached.

The first one is part 2 of Colossians 1:15-20: Jesus, Lord of Reconcilation. It is always neat for me looking back at sermons that the Lord uses (at least in part) in His mighty process of reconciliation. One young lady came to know Jesus the night this sermon was preached.

The second one is Colossians 1:21-23: Must I Endure? In this sermon we consider the doctrine of eternal security (or as we Calvinist call it--Preservation of the Saints). I am indebted to Tom Schreiner for many of thoughts in this sermon. He helps us to see how we ought to heed the warning in this text.

The third sermon is on Colossians 1:24-29, where we consider: Are You a Faithful Minister? This was (is) and extremely difficult text to preach. (At least it was for me). At the beginning of preperation it was one of my least favorite sermons. However, once I began writing it quickly became one of my favorites. If I had it to preach over again I would spend more time on the final point--but until I edit you get the uncut sermon.

The fourth sermon is last weeks sermon on Colossians 2:1-5: Truth Matters. This is another sermon that students responded to. I know for me, considering whether or not I truly believe Jesus to be the storehouse of all wisdom and knowledge, this was convicting. In case you read the sermon and want the answers to the first 13 questions: 3, 4, 5, 8, 9 are true the rest are false. You may disagree with calling 11 false--I mean it to be somewhat tricky.

May God be glorified!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

How to Filter Rubbish

The Internet is overflowing with garbage. I am not merely talking about all of the pornography and the ramblings of the idiot culture. I am talking about the Christian blogosphere. Just as it is in a Christian bookstore there is quite a bit of rubbish out there. I do not care to add to the collection. So, I have set up a filter for myself; I use it for blogging, for preaching, and for engaging in deeper conversations.

As I have mentioned in the past I have a quote in my office that is taken from Piper's Don't Waste Your Life; I use it as my mandate. "To so live and so study and so serve and so preach and so write that Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen God, be the only boast of this generation." That is great, but how can I determine whether or not I am writing to make Jesus the only boast or if I am simply adding to the heap of Internet rubbish? Simple, you use the Rubbish Filter 101...or as some people like to call it 1 Timothy 1. I use it to ask 7 sets of questions:

  1. Does it promote speculation? Is it clearly related to Scripture or does it require a "secret" knowledge to find it in Scripture?
  2. Does it accurately preserve the gospel and transmit the clear gospel? Is it faithful to the stewardship that God has given us?
  3. Is it motivated out of love? Or is it pride, self-evaluation, revenge, self-righteousness, bitterness, discord, or unbelief?
  4. Will it lead to vain discussion?
  5. Is my motivation to promote the unity and purity of the Bride of Christ or my own name?
  6. Does this come from a deep conviction and love for the Christ and His Gospel?
  7. Will this doctrine exalt man to an undue place?

There you have it. Mark Dever has a few good questions he asks concerning what doctrines are essential (I would be indebted to anyone that could provide a link to that). Also Michael Patton considers the same question, here.


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