Apologetics // Myers on Culture // The Victim's Responsibility

This is a great perspective on apologetics, by Mitch Stokes, who has a new book out.

Ken Myers speaks to an Anglican gathering a month after SCOTUS' Obergefell decision.

How do you get the offended person in a hostile relationship to stand down?
Doug Wilson offers helpful perspective.


Baptism, Covenant and Children

A friend asks for the basic argument for infant baptism, and how it relates to circumcision, and John the Baptist's and Jesus' baptisms.

In the Old Testament God used circumcision as the sign and seal of including children in his covenant with their believing parents (Genesis 17).  In the New Testament the covenant is the same, children are still involved in covenant by implication from 1 Corinthians 7:14-15, but the signs were changed to baptism instead of circumcision.  This is clearest in Colossians 2:11-12.

The credo-baptist argument usually sees baptism mainly as our response to God, not so much God's sign sovereignly applied to us.  So you wait until our response can be fully intentional and mentally affirmed on the individual's part.  The infant baptist position sees it more continuous with the OT, when God did NOT wait for our response and specifically set the sign of the covenant on us 8 days after birth.  God loved and included us in Him first, by grace.  We love Him because He loved us.

The Reformed churches historically developed the practice of profession of faith to deal with the expected issue of children who grow up in the faith, are baptized in infancy, and who make an individual commitment to Christ at some point.  In the NT this response only involves baptism for those hearing the gospel for the first time, NOT for children who grew up in the faith.  The Bible nowhere directly addresses what to do sacramentally with children of believers, except in Genesis 17.  Israel developed the practice of having children of 12 go to Passover for a special occasion, which became barmitzvah, when they owned their faith themselves.  It's good to have some practice like that, that acknowledges a child's own new commitment.  But the Bible does NOT raise that to the level of a sacrament.  "Repent and be baptized" is for first converts.  The pattern in Genesis 17:10-14 is for their children.

Your understanding of the covenant and who is in the church is also involved.  The more baptistic understanding is, you're either saved or not, that's it.  If you express faith you are counted among the number; if not, then not.  The Reformed view adds what we find in the Bible, the "dimension" of covenant.  All those circumcised in the OT (Israelites 8 days old and up, and some Gentile converts) are part of Israel, whether they have expressed faith or not.  They are in God's covenant.  The sign of that covenant is circumcision, or baptism now.  So all adult converts to Christ and the children of believers should be baptized and counted part of the church (thus invited to the Lord's Table).

Circumcision isn't explained in the NT, because it assumes you know the OT.
Yes, John was probably an Essene.  Even if not, baptism was always a general sign of accepting entrance into something.  John uses it to prepare Israel for her Messiah, as an expression that even Israel needs to repent and be saved by Him.  John calls Israel to enter a state of preparedness for Messiah by showing your humble and repentant heart.
After Jesus, baptism becomes a sign of the covenant.  In Matt 28:18-20 Jesus attaches it to making converts and disciples for Him, and makes it in the Triune name of God.  Romans 6 makes its essential meaning that of union with Christ.  Colossians 2 shows it replaces circumcision in function, so we retain the circumcision pattern of when we apply the sign (in infancy).

As far as Jesus' baptism by John, Jesus says it is to fulfill all righteousness.  This is usually understood to mean that as Jesus begins His ministry, He identifies with His people, who need to be baptized.  Jesus didn't need to be baptized just like He didn't need to become a man and save us.  But He did became like us to save us, and baptism is part of that package.  Israel wandered 40 years in the desert, then crossed the Jordan into Canaan to receive the promised land.  Jesus fasted in the desert 40 days, then is baptized in the Jordan to bring us salvation.


Too Much Gospel Focus?

“There is a danger in focusing too much on the gospel, narrowly conceived, and in compartmentalizing life with the result that important related dimensions – such as marriage and family – fade too far from view.  To emphasize the centrality of the gospel for its salvific purpose and reduce it to a bare-bones minimum neglects the complex, interrelated texture of all of life.  As with so many things, this is a matter of balance and of keeping things in proper proportion and perspective.”

Andreas Kostenberger, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, March 2016.

The first phrase of this quote seems obviously wrong in our “gospel-centered” evangelical church culture these days.  But think this through.  It’s possible to be so focused on Gospel conversions and evangelism that you don’t teach on how to live the Christian life.  You can spend all your time in Romans 1-8 and never get to Romans 12-15.  In some churches you get the same “come to Jesus” sales pitch and altar call every Sunday.  They know Jesus as Redeemer, but not so much as Lord and King of our lives and lands now.

Then again, in other churches they are so focused on right living that they have forgotten to connect it to the root – the grace of Jesus Christ.  (This is more the tendency in my circles and in me, I think.)  Their life verse is Hebrews 5:12-6:3 – that we need to go on beyond basics and mature in the faith.  Yes, but not in a prideful way that considers yourself “beyond” needing the Gospel anymore, and far ahead of the pitiful evangelical church.

Kostenberger is right that this is a matter of balance.  May God give us wisdom to show the primacy of Christ’s atonement for our forgiveness, and the necessity of our walking in accord with Gospel holiness in every aspect of life.

“As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.”

Colossians 2:6-7


Tattoos // Fretting // Orlando shooting not hate

Doug Wilson on tattoos, again.  I agree with him.  Especially the first two paragraphs.
I'd add to the last another reason Christians get tattoos: a misguided desire to express and decorate themselves.  It's not always rebellion or trying to improving your baptism.

Nancy Wilson, on fear, fretting, and worry.

RR Reno says the Orlando shooting was not hate, but calculated terrorism.  Why can't we understand our enemies?


Trump // SHOULD Iron Sharpen Iron?? // Covenant Theology

I haven't posted anything on Trump in a while.  I liked this take.
Trump's "ethnic nationalism, which relies on stoking grievances, resentments and fear of the other — Mexicans, Muslims, Syrian refugees, the Chinese, etc.— has a powerful sway in the Republican Party today. To be clear, not all of Mr. Trump’s supporters are drawn to his ethnic nationalism. But all of his supporters are willing to accept it."

Justin Taylor suggests iron sharpening iron might not be a good thing in Proverbs 27:17.

Richard Pratt lays out the basics of covenant theology.  It's more than the doctrines of grace (TULIP).


Practical Steps in Bringing Healing to Your Relationships

Practical Steps in Bringing Healing to Your RelationshipsPractical Steps in Bringing Healing to Your Relationships by Gregg Strawbridge

Strawbridge looks mainly to Philippians 4:1-9 for direction on reconciliation. In a helpful twist on a beloved passage of Scripture, the author puts rejoicing and being anxious for nothing in the context of the relational difficulty Paul mentions in verse 2. Conflict is a reality; intervening is required (verse 3); peace results (verses 6-8). Much of the rest of the passage points to how to achieve reconciliation: rejoicing (vs 4), reasonableness (vs 5), prayer (vs 6), etc.

Packed with down to earth examples and practical instruction, I highly recommend this booklet from wordmp3.com.

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PhilippiansPhilippians by James Montgomery Boice

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An excellent series of sermons on Philippians by the late James Boice.

I was a bit surprised at how topical they were, though. He pulls out a theme from a text of only one or two verses, and then would often go to another Scripture that dealt more fully with that theme and almost exposit THAT text instead! This gives folks more exposure to the Bible, though, which is good.

Also, he goes so slowly through the text that you sometimes lose the big picture of the whole letter. He could have come back to the context more often, but that’s what comes of delving deep, as he does well. This is not to say he missed the point of the text – he is very seldom off base about what the text is saying.

This commentary is solidly and reliably true to Scripture. It is not a “for-pastors-only” kind of commentary, since it is a collection of sermons and not a critical analysis of the text. Any believer will be helped in their walk with Christ by reading this volume along with Philippians.

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King John

King JohnKing John by William Shakespeare

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

King John (1595-ish) is a rough and vicious kind of play, showing the belligerent and war-like John (1166-1216) ready to fight and assassinate child contenders to gain and keep his crown. “A scepter snatched with an unruly hand Must be as boisterously maintained as gained” (3.4). “There is no sure foundation set on blood” (4.2). An illegitimate son of Richard the Lion-Heart, Richard Plantagenet, becomes his right hand man, equally ready to help him fight. But key nobles defect from him, seeing his flawed character. John dies poisoned by a monk, as France is invading England.

Richard is the most colorful character. He would have fit in with the Bernie Sanders crowd today:
“Whiles I am a begger, I will rail And say there is no sin but to be rich.”

As usual Shakespeare throws in some good, one-liner, life lessons:
“How oft the sight of means to do ill deeds Make deeds ill done!” (4.2). John is tempted to evil both from within and from evil counselors around him, showing him sinful but possible ways to get what he wants.
“Tame the savage spirit of wild war” (5.1). The cardinal tells the French this. But the cardinal had incited the French against John earlier, when John refused to submit to Rome.

Warfare is tamed in the play only with the death of John. Until then, Richard counsels violence: “Let not the world see fear and sad distrust Govern the motion of a kingly eye. Be stirring as the time; be fire with fire” (5.1). The French say the same: “Let the tongue of war Plead for our interest” (5.2). But once John dies Richard relents and follows the more peaceful son of John, who will become Henry III.

John is not an example to follow: “Within me is a hell…. All this thou seest is but a clod… of confounded royalty…. What surety of the world, what hope, what stay,
When this was now a king, and now is clay?” (5.7).

This is the foul end of opportunism and violence.

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The Legend of Sam Miracle

The Legend of Sam Miracle (Outlaws of Time #1)The Legend of Sam Miracle by N.D. Wilson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A rollicking good Western with a few twists.
Sam Miracle is caught up in a story he doesn't remember. A priest can move him through the sands of time, and lays down his life for him, but he needs Glory's help to beat the bad guys.

Wilson messes with time creatively, a favorite theme of mine in the sci-fi genre, and it was fun to see it at work in a Western setting. My boys ate it up as I read it out loud. Can you have courage and tenacity in the face of obstacles, like Sam Miracle? Can you control your destructive anger (the snake Cindy)? What do you do when your reliable skill (the snake Speck) isn't good enough to stop the bad guys?

Lots of good themes like that. Get this for your 9-15 year olds, especially.

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A Midsummer Night's Dream

A Midsummer Night's DreamA Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Midsummer Night’s Dream review

The sprites can make us do foolish things, especially when it comes to love. There are times we seem to lose ourselves, we become so bewitched with love for others. The potion of Oberon and transformation of Bottom into an ass, and the goddess Titania loving him for a time, show this.

Even the gods themselves can hold irrational grudges against each other, causing trouble for mortals below.

We need to be able to laugh at ourselves, and to laugh mercifully at others instead of be offended by them. The play at the end of the play pictures this, as the aristocratic audience laughs and enjoys the many mistakes the bumbling amateurs make.

There’s a serious point to this, though. Life throws you curveballs that can really hurt. The whole tone of the play in the first scene is very different from the rest. The father is pressing his right to execute or forcibly send to a nunnery his daughter if she won’t marry the right guy. She escapes to the woods with her lover, but a love triangle ensues because of the potion. Her lover sets his affections on another girl, who is tormented by two suitors when they rejected her cruelly just yesterday. The insults are painful to hear.

So Shakespeare doesn’t ignore the suffering of life, even in this comedy. But fortune will see it set right in the end, and we are called to see it all as a passing dream. At this point I disagree with the underlying message: trials in life are sent to us providentially for our good, they are not passing dreams and mistakes to look back on with mere laughter.

But final point is a good one: we must be merciful to each other because of the bumbling mistakes we tend to make in life. The girl marries her love, who spurned her the night before under the bewitching potion. The audience applauds the poorly acted play, to give them joy.

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Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and JulietRomeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?”

This famous play has become iconic as a celebration of young lovers who reject their clueless parents and rush head-long into love for each other.

Shakespeare is certainly pointing out the folly of Juliet’s parents. They don’t know what she is thinking or feeling. But he is also showing the folly of the children. And they ARE children! Juliet’s father tells the suitor he likes that he should wait a couple years, since Juliet isn’t even 14 yet!

So the kids foolishly indulge a crush, while the parents think they can use raw parental power to get their daughter to do what they want, and the priest’s dangerous solution miscarries badly. Each of them indulge their natural flaws: the kids’ emotions run away with them, the parents don’t know their children and angrily try to force them, the church subverts the family instead of helping it.

The friar seemed closest to wisdom, though, in my estimation. At one point he tells Romeo,
“Art thou a man? thy form cries out thou art:
Thy tears are womanish; they wild acts denote
The unreasonable fury of a beast.”

Romeo and Juliet shows the tragedy that comes when emotions are out of control. The emotion may be anger - Juliet’s father rages against his daughter until even his wife rebukes him. Or it may even be love, which is destructive if not kept in proper bounds.

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Free will // 10 Pleasures // Love the Law

Kevin DeYoung sums up the Reformed view of free will in 500 words.  Excellent.

David Murray re-frames the 10 commandments as pleasures to pursue.

Sinclair Ferguson commends love for the law of God.  Best article I've read in weeks.
Other articles from the Legalism issue are here.


Receiving Criticism

Most of us have been through seasons of discouragement from criticism.  A poor grade on a test.  The boss calls you in for a dreaded performance review.  Your friend pulls you aside for coffee.  And you realize you’ve got to either change or lose the respect of a friend, or a job, or somehow go the way of the dodo.

It hurts.
When you aren’t cutting it, and they let you know, it is seldom a happy experience.  “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant” (Hebrews 12:11).  But God refines us and tests our faith through adversity and hardship.  Because of our sinful nature, the cliché is true.  “No pain, no gain.”  He calls His Word a sharp, two-edged sword, piercing and discerning our hearts (Hebrews 4:12).  Like a surgeon’s scalpel to the skin, biblical criticism wounds us to help heal us.  It can leave scars.  It takes time to recover from the shock.

But if you receive it well, criticism can also help.  I am learning to…

- See myself more accurately.

Criticism isn’t always accurate.  People have misplaced expectations of us all the time.  Criticism can be well meant or motivated by a hidden agenda.  It can be off-base on its merits, or true.   Whatever the motivation and the merits (two separate things!), as the receiver of criticism I’m rarely the best judge of an evaluation about me.  We all need others to help us see our weaknesses and mistakes.  I shouldn’t dismiss criticism just because it offends my wounded pride or forces me to change.  Neither should I find friends who will automatically feed my resentment and defend me regardless of the merits of the criticism.  In the multitude of counselors there is wisdom.  Don’t just listen to your critic.  But don’t ignore him and listen only to your cheerleader, either.  Develop friends who will shoot straight with you, and help you see yourself more accurately.

- Adopt a more contrite spirit.

When someone cuts you down, how do you respond?  Do you pop back up fighting mad?  Do you stay down and wallow?  In our sinfulness we are tempted to both.  And both are selfish responses, not from the Spirit.  We shouldn’t exalt ourselves just to get away from that low feeling.  You were patronized, condescended to.  So you want to give back as good as you got.  Neither should we lay down in self-pity and refuse to get up again.  Self-pity is not biblical contrition.  No, we always need a God-ward focus, and especially in the face of criticism.  It’s easy to feel we don’t deserve it, when we get criticized.  And maybe we don’t deserve the specific charge.  But we deserve far worse in our sin.  Consider David’s posture before enemies when he was innocent of certain slanders.  Psalm 7:3-5: “O Lord my God, if I have done this: If there is iniquity in my hands, If I have repaid evil to him who was at peace with me, Or have plundered my enemy without cause, Let the enemy pursue me and overtake me; Yes, let him trample my life to the earth, And lay my honor in the dust.”  David isn’t defensive, but he doesn’t just roll over and accept any false charge against him out of a false humility, either.  He looks to God and considers himself soberly.  So a contrite heart doesn’t admit to anything accusers dream up.  But whatever you know to be true in the criticism, acknowledge quickly as David did before Nathan in the Bathsheba incident (2 Samuel 12:13; Psalm 51).

- Rely on God’s grace more than my ability.

God has given you all you have and all you are.  It is by His grace that you stand and do anything.  We are weak and fragile instruments in God’s hands, jars of clay (2 Corinthians 4:7).  If we are strong, it is because He has made us so.  If we are weak, it is to show His glory, and we can rejoice in that.

So, the next time you face discouraging situations or critical people, look to God who is sending you this trouble.  Ask what HE wants you to learn in this.  Seek counsel from others.  Pray for wisdom and pour out your heart to God.

“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” – Hebrews 12:11.


Lessons from Soccer // Better Preaching // Retreat, or Regrouping?

With my kids in soccer, I enjoyed these life lessons from sports.

Kevin DeYoung knocks this out of the park!  Quick tips to improve preaching.  Just what I needed to hear.

Carl Trueman clarifies and advocates Rod Dreher's Benedict Option - that we should focus on fostering Christian culture instead of work for change according to the world's politics.  I agree largely, but am concerned that evangelism could unintentionally fall by the wayside in this approach.

Disagreeing Well // Plod Patiently // When Others Hurt You

How to disagree, according to Rom 14

Peter Jones urges patient work in Word and prayer

Paul Tripp, on responding better when others sin against you.