Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Blessed are Those Who Mourn!

John Owen
CHRISTIAN THINKERS FROM previous centuries emphasized different aspects of the Christian life. It is safe, and immeasurably helpful, to go back and occasionally drink from their well.

Our church has been preaching through the Beatitudes in Matthew chapter five. Last week's sermon discussed verse four, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."

Here are the thoughts of two important Puritan preachers on the subject of mourning. The first is John Owen (1616-83), graduate of Oxford, chaplain to Oliver Cromwell, and eventually vice-chancellor of Oxford.

"[God's] delight is with the humble and contrite ones, those that tremble at his word, the mourners in Zion; and such are we only when we have a due sense of our own vile condition. This will beget reverence of God, a sense of our distance from him, admiration of his grace and condescension, a due valuation of mercy, far above those light, verbal, airy attainments, that some have boasted of." (The Works of John Owen, Vol. 6, pg 257)

Jeremiah Burroughs
The second quote is from another Christian from Owen's generation, Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646). “They [Christians] look upon sin and tremble and they look upon sin and mourn.”  They “receive the promises that are in God’s Word…with trembling, that is, upon apprehension of the infinite distance that there is between God and it, and its own infinite unworthiness of the mercy that is reached out in the promise…This is the heart that is so precious in God’s eye and that God looks upon." (Gospel Fear, Soli Deo Gloria, 1996). 

Each of us should ask God for a similar attitude. God promises to comfort it greatly. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Review of "Miraculous Movements"

     JUST FINISHED A NEW BOOK Miraculous Movements, (2012, Thomas Nelson) by Jerry Trousdale. There was much to like about this remarkable book.
    It documents the growing numbers of conversions amongst Moslems in Africa. As everyone in the modern world knows, this is a tough people-group to reach. But this book convinces the reader that nothing is impossible for God. It  illustrates God's power at work performing the seemingly impossible. Responding to intercessory prayer, God is converting hard-core Moslems.
     Miraculous Movements opens with the striking story of a Moslem leader's conversion. In response to prayer, Christ appeared to him in a dream. His conversion followed shortly, and he was eventually used to plant many churches.
     The demonstration of this kind of power is a common pattern in west Africa. This book contains stories (I have no reason to doubt their veracity) of people  raised from the dead, of exorcisms, and sudden and miraculous healings, all leading to mass conversions of Moslems. God uses simple, often illiterate people, to perform these mighty works.
     This is a faith-amplifying book. It is a reminder that God has the power to convert anyone, at any time, from any religion, in any place. It will also motivate intercession and prayer. Since reading it I myself have spent more time in prayer.

     However, the book has one major weakness. The author stresses the importance of training new converts to obey God's word. We couldn't agree more. However, he seems to be convinced that formal group teaching sessions discourage obedience. So, he doesn't encourage teaching in the form of lectures. Instead, this organization encourages inductive teaching sessions. They read a portion of scripture, then ask the participants to interpret and obey it.
    Inductive teaching is great, but not when it is the only form of teaching. The teaching of objective theology is crucial. Without it this movement will ultimately degenerate into legalisms, and/or outright heresy.

   So, did I like this book? Yes! It was a faith builder. My caveat relates to their rejection of expository and doctrinal teaching, the ministry that God clearly gave to the church in Eph. 4:11. God gives the church teachers, and this movement needs to put them to work.
     With this corrective in mind, read this book and enjoy it. It will stretch your faith.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Give Them Grace!

     JUDY AND I JUST FINISHED READING Give them Grace a book on parenting by our fellow laborers in the gospel, Elyse Fitzpatrick and her grown daughter, Jessica Thompson.

     The book has several strengths. It emphasizes the centrality of the gospel in parenting, a principle upon which we could not agree more. Second, it emphasizes the importance of Grace. Don't give them law: give them grace (first chapter). Your goal is not obedient children that make you look good. Don't teach your children that God loves the good little boys and girls (second chapter). You can't save you children. You can't give them new birth, and that is what they need (third chapter). Our children reject God two ways, by active rebellion and by self-righteousness (fourth chapter).

   We loved the grace emphasis in this book. However, the book also raised some concerns. First,  two Christian moms/wives are the authors. That by itself is not a problem. The problem is that the role of husband/father is not addressed. In light of the fact that  the Bible addresses all of its parenting commands to fathers, and we live in anti-patriarchal age, this causes concern. We think a chapter at the beginning about moms honoring, following, and working with their husband would have been immensely helpful. Without this material this book might inadvertently encourage a mother's autonomy from her husband, and/or conversely male passivity.

  Second, this book's wonderful emphasis on grace is also its weakness. God is a Father. That means he is a parent. The authors correctly encourage the reader to model their parenting on their knowledge of how God parents us. However, in places their understanding of God seemed simplistic and outside the entire corpus of biblical teaching about the Father's grace and how it works. For example, chapter six contains a section entitled "Donkeys, Carrots, and Sticks." There the author indicates that we should not motivate with fear (stick) or reward (carrot) because God does not motivate us that way. He motivates us with gratitude for the grace received by the gospel. Although God does motivate us with gratitude, in our view this rejection of other motives is overly simplistic.

     Reward is a significant gospel motivator. God will judge us on the basis of the works that our faith produces, and he will reward us accordingly (Phil 3:13-14, 1 Cor 9:24-25, Rev. 2:10, etc.). In addition, fear is a significant gospel motivator (2 Cor 7:1, 5:11, Phil 2:12-13). For example, Paul, the architect of justification by faith alone, never presumed upon God's grace. Rather, he feared lest he run his race in vain (Phil 3:12-16). He examined his conscience to see if he was in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5-7). Parents who motivate their children by gratitude alone might promote this kind of  motivational reduction. They might even encourage their children to presume upon God's grace. We do not want that.

     If God motivates us with reward, fear, and warnings to not presume upon his grace, we should do likewise. However, as the authors correctly caution, we should do this without ever stating or implying that our children can merit God's acceptance with their works.

     Last, Appendix Two contained instructions to parents on different ways to correct a believing or unbelieving child. We did not find this helpful. Unless the child has specifically told you that they are not a Christian (very unlikely) we feel that you should treat them as if they are all Christians. Parents are not omniscient. They do not know what God is or is not doing in their child's soul. Therefore, it is best to merely follow the apostolic instruction. Raise your children "in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4). Leave the guesswork about their conversion to God. 

     In summary, we need to "Give Them Grace"  but it needs to be the full-orbed, nuanced grace that is in the Bible, and dads need to be at the center of its administration. If these principles are kept in mind this book can be helpful.