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December 18, 2018 by: David Murray

This article is part of the Open Letters series.

Dear Friend,

Depression is tough at the best of times. Perhaps it’s the best of times, such as holiday times, when it’s especially tough. The thought of mixing with happy people fills you with dread. The thought of remembering lost loved ones fills you with gloom. How can people be so happy when you are so sad? How can people celebrate when you are in mourning? It jars your soul and scrapes your tender wounds, doesn’t it?

You may want to run away and hide from the noisy busyness and the social obligations. Or you may want to lash out at the insensitive and uncaring people who exhort you to “Cheer up!” Or maybe you just want to drown your sorrows with binge drinking, binge eating, or binge TV-watching. But none of these options—running out, lashing out, or pigging out—will improve your depression. Indeed, they will only make it worse.

Let me propose a better way that will enable you to carefully navigate this holiday season while also contributing to your long-term healing.

Pray

I know prayer is perhaps too obvious, but sometimes we miss the obvious. Bring your burden to the Lord, tell him your fears and dreads, and seek his help to push through these daunting days. Lament by saying “Lord, I don’t want to give thanks, I don’t want to celebrate Christmas, and I don’t want to live through another year.” Admit, saying: “God, I can’t stand happiness right now and I can’t abide people.” Confess: “This is wrong and sinful, but I can’t seem to change.” Plead: “Lord, I am weak, I need your power, I need your patience, I need your joy.” Promise: “I will rely on you alone to carry me and even use this time for my help and healing.”

It’s amazing how the gospel can turn the greatest pain into the greatest therapy.

Share

Not everyone among your family and friends understands depression; but some do, as you know. Give them a call, or, better, meet with them, and talk to them about what you dread during this season. Ask them to pray for you and to support you in the coming days. Ask them to stay by your side in social settings, to protect you from those who don’t understand, to accept your silences, and to help you withdraw quietly when you have reached your limits of socializing.

Plan

While it’s not wise to totally withdraw from social life during the holidays, neither is it wise to force yourself to go to every social gathering. Total withdrawal will only depress you further; but so will total immersion. You just don’t have the emotional and mental fuel for it. So, plan ahead and choose wisely which social occasions you will go to and how long to spend there. Perhaps try to avoid going to too many gatherings on consecutive days or evenings. You need downtime to be quiet and to re-fuel. Perhaps you can plan to attend a gathering but not stay from the beginning to the end. That’s more inviting in prospect and more beneficial in retrospect. The aim is to pace yourself and make sure you are getting sufficient time to rebuild your energy levels.

Routine

Regular routine is vital for those with depression. Your body, mind, and soul flourish when you are following a predictable pattern of sleeping, eating, working, and relaxing. All this is threatened by the irregularity and unpredictability of the holidays. You will have to accept a degree of change in this area in these weeks, yet still fight to maintain as much regularity as you can. You don’t want to waste all your good work in this area.

Exercise

Keep up a fitness regime. I know from personal experience how hard it is to be consistent in this area over the holidays. There’s so much sitting around, and so, so much food. But it’s so important for your physical, mental, and spiritual health to maintain your discipline here. If my experience is anything to go by, you won’t keep it perfectly. But do what you can. Even if you can’t get to the gym, try to get outside and walk in the daylight for 20-30 mins a day.

Preach to Yourself

You have an internal narrative, the story that you are telling yourself. You’ve done a great job of re-writing that story over the past few months. The dark chapters that were so full of what you lost with these painful family bereavements have now given way to many bright paragraphs of how much your loved one has gained in heaven and of your hope of eventual and eternal reunion. You’ve also managed by God’s grace to expand that part of the story which focuses on how much you still have in your life. Keep writing these chapters in your mind and heart—the longer the better.

Now, you’re going to be tempted in the next few weeks to write a chapter that dwells on the present estrangement with your daughter and how much you miss her at family occasions. While we can’t deny the reality of this, and we continue to pray and work towards reconciliation, can I suggest that you write another chapter in parallel with it? Write a chapter on the way God has reconciled you to his Son through his death on the cross (Eph. 2:14-18; 2 Cor. 5:18-21). Fixing your mind on this greatest estrangement and reconciliation story will help you to balance a bitter experience with the sweetest experience, and will also give you hope in God’s reconciling power. It’s amazing how the gospel can turn the greatest pain into the greatest therapy.

You can also preach to yourself by singing the Gospel to yourself. Remember how much you enjoyed Handel’s “Messiah” last year? Why don’t we go again? Attend your church’s Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services. Sing these Gospel-rich songs and make melody in your heart to the Lord (Eph. 5:19).

Preach to Others

I don’t want to lay a heavy burden on you here, but why not look for and take opportunities to witness to others? The unbelievers in your family will be looking to see how you react to your recent losses and how you are responding to your depression. They will see you are sad and they will ask how you are doing. How about this for an answer: “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10). That should startle them! But is will also start some profitable conversations that give you an opportunity to testify to God’s grace to you in these days. Sometimes, ministering to others is the best way to minister to yourself.

David Murray (DMin, Reformation International Theological Seminary) is professor of Old Testament and practical theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and the pastor of Grand Rapids Free Reformed Church. He is also a counselor, a regular speaker at conferences, and the author of Jesus on Every Page.

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December 18, 2018 by: R. Kent Hughes
The Why

When the Passover was instituted, the Lord specified to Moses, “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord” (Ex. 12:14). That same day, when Moses concluded his instructions for observing the first Passover, he said: “And when you come to the land that the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses’” (Ex. 12:25–27). Thus, we understand that the celebration of the Passover was not an option. It was not man’s idea but God’s. Remembering God’s saving work was essential to the faith of the generations to come and ultimately to their embracing “Christ, our Passover” (1 Cor. 5:7).

In the same way, the annual celebrations of the saving work of the Lamb of God through his incarnation, death, and resurrection (the gospel) are essential to the spiritual well-being of God’s children and their children’s children. These are, without reservation, the greatest events of world history. As such, they are events that the faithful pastor uses to instill the essentials of the gospel in the lives of his people by the prayerful preparation of sermons and services that evoke the question, “What do these things mean?” to which he then heralds the eternal answers.

On Christmas Eve, the eternal Son of God stood poised . . . at the rim of the universe, radiating light.

The How

On Christmas Eve, the eternal Son of God stood poised, so to speak, at the rim of the universe, radiating light. Then he dove headlong through the galaxies and over the Milky Way toward our planet and into the watery warmth of the Virgin’s womb, where he first became a zygote, then an embryo, then a fetus, and then a baby, who would be born of Mary in a barnyard on what we call Christmas Day. Isn’t that the most beautiful story ever told? But today it is lost amid the glittering and plastic sentiment of our culture, which, without the Christ, is a yellow brick road to darkness.

Our task as pastors is to put together services in which the great story is preached in its rich biblical context amid hymns and songs that lift up the glories of the incarnation, so that our children and children’s children will wonder at and understand its meaning. The following resources will aid the busy pastor.

Select Christmas Scriptures

The following Bible passages make excellent preaching texts. They can also be read, directly or responsively, at the various services of the Christmas season.

Old Testament

  • Numbers 24:15–17
  • Isaiah 11:1–10
  • Psalm 2
  • Isaiah 40:1–11
  • Psalm 8
  • Ezekiel 34:22–24
  • Isaiah 9:1–7 (esp. v. 6)
  • Micah 5:2

New Testament

  • Matthew 1:18–25
  • John 1:1–4
  • Matthew 2:1–11
  • John 1:1–14
  • Matthew 2:13–23
  • 2 Corinthians 8:9
  • Luke 1:5–25
  • 2 Corinthians 9:15
  • Luke 1:26–38
  • Galatians 4:4–6
  • Luke 1:39–45
  • Philippians 2:1–8
  • Luke 1:46–56
  • Colossians 1:15–20
  • Luke 1:57–66
  • 1 Timothy 1:15
  • Luke 1:67–80
  • 1 Timothy 3:16
  • Luke 2:1–7
  • Hebrews 2:14–18
  • Luke 2:1–20
  • Hebrews 4:14–16
  • Luke 2:21
  • Hebrews 10:5–7
  • Luke 2:22–38
Select Christmas Songs

Music can likewise reaffirm the truth of the gospel, and inspire joy at the coming of the Lord at Christmas. Consider this list of either classic or more modern songs for congregational worship.

Classic Advent and Christmas Hymns

  • “All My Heart This Night Rejoices” (Gerhardt)
  • “Angels from the Realms of Glory” (Montgomery)
  • “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” (Wesley)
  • “Comfort, Comfort Ye My People” (Olearius)
  • “Gabriel’s Message” (Basque carol)
  • “Good Christian Men, Rejoice” (Suso)
  • “Hark, the Glad Sound” (Doddridge)
  • “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” (Wesley)
  • “How Great Our Joy” (Baker)
  • “Joy to the World” (Watts)
  • “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” (Liturgy of St. James)
  • “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” (15th c. German)
  • “O Come, All Ye Faithful (Adeste Fideles)” (Wade)
  • “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” (Latin hymn)
  • “O Holy Night” (Cappeau)
  • “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” (Prudentius)
  • “On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry” (Coffin)
  • “On This Day Earth Shall Ring” (Piae Cantiones)
  • “Once in Royal David’s City” (Alexander)
  • “Rejoice, Rejoice Believers” (Laurenti)
  • “Savior of the Nations, Come” (Ambrose)
  • “Silent Night! Holy Night” (Mohr)
  • “The First Noel” (trad. English carol)
  • “Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne” (Elliott)
  • “Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying” (Nicolai)
  • “What Child Is This?” (Dix)

Recent Advent and Christmas Hymns and Songs

  • “Anthem for Christmas” (Gaither/Smith)
  • “Awake! Awake, and Greet the New Morn” (Haugen)
  • “Christ the Lord Is Born Today” (Altrogge)
  • “Exult in the Savior’s Birth” (Carson/Boswell)
  • “From the Squalor of a Borrowed Stable” (Townend)
  • “Glory Be to God” (Wesley; alt. Kauflin)
  • “Jesus, Joy of the Highest Heaven” (Getty/Getty)
  • “Joy Has Dawned” (Getty/Townend)
  • “O Come, Our World’s Redeemer, Come” (Perry)
  • “O Savior of Our Fallen Race” (Getty/Getty)
  • “People, Look East” (Farjeon)
  • “Thou Who Wast Rich Beyond All Splendour” (Houghton)
  • “Wonderful Counselor” (Altrogge)

This article is adapted from The Pastor’s Book: A Comprehensive and Practical Guide to Pastoral Ministry by R. Kent Hughes.

R. Kent Hughes (DMin, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is senior pastor emeritus of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, and professor of practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Hughes is also a founder of the Charles Simeon Trust, which conducts expository preaching conferences throughout North America and worldwide. He serves as the series editor for the Preaching the Word commentary series and is the author or coauthor of many books. He and his wife, Barbara, live in Wyncote, Pennsylvania, and have four children and an ever-increasing number of grandchildren.

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December 17, 2018 by: J. Mack Stiles
The Church's Most Powerful Witness to the World - Vimeo
The Church Is God’s Means

Evangelism is about seeing the church as a whole share and display the gospel, because I think the greatest means that God has given us for evangelism is the church. So what we want is gospel-centered, cross-focused, grace-saturated churches that are loving one another in the unity of the gospel as a powerful witness to the world.

We want . . . gospel-centered, cross-focused, grace-saturated churches that are loving one another in the unity of the gospel.

Right now in my church in Iraq, we have probably twenty different nationalities that are loving each other across boundaries. They’re from all over Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. There are some Americans there.

The power of a shared witness that comes from the whole church speaking of Jesus is astonishing. So, I long for all churches to understand the power of our witness in that kind of context.

J. Mack Stiles is a pastor of a church in Iraq. He used to work as CEO of Gulf Digital Solutions and general secretary for the Fellowship of Christian UAE Students (FOCUS) in the United Arab Emirates. He worked for many years with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in the United States. He is the author of Marks of the Messenger and Speaking of Jesus.

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December 16, 2018 by: Paul David Tripp
An Eternally Significant Word

If you had to summarize the Christmas story with one word, what word would you choose? Now, your word would have to capture what this story points to as the core of human need and the way God would meet that need. Do you have a word in mind? Maybe you’re thinking that it’s just not possible to summarize the greatest story ever with one word. But I think you can. Let’s consider one lovely, amazing, history-changing, and eternally significant word.

It doesn’t take paragraph after paragraph, written on page after page, filling volume after volume to communicate how God chose to respond to the outrageous rebellion of Adam and Eve and the subtle and not-so-subtle rebellion of everyone since. God’s response to the sin of people against his rightful and holy rule can be captured in a single word. I wonder if you thought, “I know the word: grace.”

Without the gift of Jesus, grace would be a promise with no power.

But the single word that captures God’s response to sin even better than the word grace is not a theological word; it is a name. That name is Jesus. God’s response wasn’t a thing. It wasn’t the establishment of an institution. It wasn’t a process of intervention. It wasn’t some new divine program. In his infinite wisdom God knew that the only thing that could rescue us from ourselves and repair the horrendous damage that sin had done to the world was not a thing at all. It was a person, his Son, the Lord Jesus.

God’s Greatest Gift to Us

God’s response to our rebellion was to give us himself. He is the great, redeeming, transforming gift. He is the rescue. He is the forgiveness. He is the restoration. He is life, hope, peace, and security. There is no salvation apart from him. There is no deliverance from the presence and power of sin apart from him. There is no restored relationship with God apart from him. There is no new heaven and new earth apart from him. There is no end to sickness and suffering apart from him. There is no defeat of death apart from him. There simply is no such thing as redeeming grace and all that it means apart from the willingness of God to give us himself in the person of the Messiah, Jesus.

Jesus is the grace of God, given to sinners who cannot free themselves from the death grip of sin. Look into that manger at that baby boy and see grace. The Christmas story is about grace in its most shocking and surprising form. The Lord of lords, one of incalculable glory, humbles himself and takes on human flesh and blood. The Creator, in a way that boggles the mind, becomes the created. The One who made a perfect world now exposes himself to a world stained with imperfections. The judge of all things places himself under judgment. The One who deserves worship becomes the Lamb of sacrifice. The One who deserves everyone’s love subjects himself to being despised and rejected. The One who owns all things lives with no place to call home and no place to rest his weary head.

The Climax of Redemptive History

Here in one single word, the name Jesus, is the shocking turn in the redemptive story. In sovereignty and with power, God would respond to the sorry condition of his world. With holy authority, he would deal with the image bearers who had turned their backs on him. Yet he would deal with the ravages of sin not with the tools of judgment, but with a single tool of grace, Jesus. You simply cannot use the word grace without connecting that word to Jesus. Yes, it needs to be said again and again and again. Jesus is the grace of God to sinners. Without his life, death, and resurrection, grace would be a sentiment devoid of any helpfulness. Without the gift of Jesus, grace would be a promise with no power. Without the presence, life, and work of that baby in the manger, there is no light at the end of the tunnel for sinners. There is no happy ending for rebels. There is no home waiting for the lost. There is only darkness, defeat, judgment, and death.

This season, in the midst of all the celebrations and gift-giving, be careful to remember that at the center of what we celebrate is one game-changing, life-altering, hope-giving reality: grace is a person, and his name is Jesus. God knew that nothing else would ever repair what sin had broken, so he gave us the ultimate gift of gifts, the gift of his Son. It’s not enough to say that Jesus came to preach grace to us. It is not enough to say that he came to give grace to us. No, Jesus is God’s redeeming grace, given to those who without him would have no hope in life or in death. Now that’s worth celebrating, not just on one special day but on every day of your life, and for the rest of eternity too!

This article is adapted from Come, Let Us Adore Him: A Daily Advent Devotional by Paul David Tripp.

Paul David Tripp (DMin, Westminster Theological Seminary) is a pastor, author, and international conference speaker. He is also the president of Paul Tripp Ministries. He has written a number of popular books on Christian living, including What Did You Expect?, Dangerous Calling, Parenting, and New Morning Mercies. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife Luella and they have four grown children. For more information and resources, visit paultrippministries.org.

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December 15, 2018 by: Fred Sanders

This article is part of the 5 Myths series.

Myth #1: It’s only for theology experts.

The doctrine of the Trinity is for everybody who is saved by Jesus. Or, to say that just a little more elaborately, it’s for everybody who has been drawn to the Father through faith in the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit (see 2 Cor. 13:14). Or, to say it again, it’s for everyone who has been adopted by the Father who sent the Son to redeem us, and sent the Holy Spirit of adoption into our hearts to make us cry out to God, “Abba, Father” (see Gal. 4:4–6). Or, to say it another way, it’s for everyone who is in communion with other believers through our common access to the Father in Christ by the Spirit (see Eph. 2:18).

Or, to be more precise, it’s for everybody who wants to understand how any of this deep salvation works, and what the gospel reveals about the God who stands behind it. That’s because the doctrine of the Trinity is the only view of God that makes sense of Christian salvation. That’s one reason the church baptizes in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (see Matt. 28:19): it’s the birthright of all the born-again.

There are, of course, experts in the doctrine of the Trinity, who have thought about it with precision and depth, and studied it in an academic way. But any subject can be apprehended simply on the one hand and studied in depth on the other hand: there are experts in everything, and their expertise doesn’t mean the thing they’ve studied becomes their exclusive property. The Trinity is too important to be left to theological experts.

Myth #2: It isn’t really in the Bible; the early church made it up.

This myth is probably based on the observation that the keywords we traditionally use in talking about the Trinity are not Bible words: Trinity, for example; but also person, nature, relation, and so on. But all those words are just labels—intended to be helpfully concise—that we attach to things we do see in Scripture. The grand story of the one true God fulfilling his promises by being with us in the Father’s sending of his Son and Spirit is a sprawling, two-testament reality of God making himself known in the act of redemption. Instead of telling that entire story every time we ponder the identity of the God of the gospel, Christians since the time of the early church fathers have tended to use the shorter, portable words. But when they started this pattern of usage, the church fathers never wanted credit for creativity. They insisted, in council after council, commentary after commentary, catechism after catechism, that they were saying what Holy Scripture said.

Some modern Christians have a kind of phobia about following the patristic lead here, preferring to use nothing but Bible words for Bible truths. They will inevitably end up having to solve the same problems the early church solved (finding heretics within their ranks using Bible words with different meanings, figuring out how to communicate the faith to the next generation, and so on), two thousand years after the fact and with their own modern idiosyncracies smuggled in unawares. Other modern Christians are overzealous about deferring to tradition and are happy to credit the church fathers with inventing a doctrine that can’t be found in the Bible. To them, the church fathers themselves respond, “no, thank you.” They never intended for us to believe in the Trinity on their own testimony; they bent all their efforts to show that God had revealed his own triunity in Scripture.

The doctrine of the Trinity is the only view of God that makes sense of Christian salvation.

Myth #3: It's irrelevant to the spiritual life.

Since God’s triunity is bundled together with the gospel, it is the foundation of the spiritual life of every believer. The more you understand the deep structure of the spiritual reality you experience in Christ and the Spirit, the more you understand and are experiencing the deep things of God for us. If you think the Trinity is irrelevant to your spiritual life as a Christian, you are probably being fooled by a kind of experiential optical illusion. What I mean is this: you can come to believe in Christ, get saved, and commune with God in the Spirit for some time before you begin to think about the Trinity. Since everything was going fine for you as a Christian before you started thinking about the Trinity, you might think the Trinity is some kind of unnecessary doctrine that ought to be tucked away in your mind somewhere as true but doesn’t affect your life. But in fact, the reason everything was going fine before is that you were immersed in the reality of the Son and the Spirit bringing you actively and dynamically into the love of the Father all along. To recognize this underlying reality ought to be an invitation for you to go deeper into what you have already begun experiencing in the Christian life.

There is one sense in which I suppose you might call the Trinity irrelevant to the spiritual life of believers. You might call it irrelevant in the sense that it is absolutely independent of believers: it’s true whether you appreciate it or not. God would be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit even if the Father had never sent the Son and the Holy Spirit, or even if the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit had never created anything or anybody to receive their blessing or believe in them. But God’s independence from everything that is not God turns out to be an important thing for us to recognize. In other words, it’s very relevant for you to know that God would be God without you.

Myth #4: It is illogical.

Sometimes we use shorthand for the doctrine of the Trinity, and say that “our God is three in one,” or “three and one.” That sounds like a contradiction. But if you plug in the relevant nouns, the contradiction goes away: God is three persons in one being. That may be a mystery, but it is not necessarily a contradiction. The problem with the short phrase, “three in one,” is that it might suggest “three Gods in one God,” or “three persons in one person,” or “three beings in one being.” The short phrase takes the entire scope of the biblical message (that there is one God, and that this God exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and, by leaving out all nouns, compresses it into a form that sounds like algebra, and bad algebra at that. When God reveals himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, he doesn’t ask for a sacrifice of the mind. He does ask for humble teachability, which is the same thing we need in order to accept anything God reveals.

Myth #5: Analogies for the Trinity matter a lot and will help us understand it more deeply.

What is God the Trinity like? A three-leaf clover? Water in its liquid, icy, and steamy states? The sun radiating beams of light and waves of heat? The shell, yolk, and white of an egg? A mind remembering itself, knowing itself, and loving itself? A three-person committee with one agenda? A person with three jobs? No, God the Trinity is not very much like any of these things at all. Some of these analogies are downright false and should never be used; others are a little bit helpful for thinking about some isolated elements of the doctrine of the Trinity in an abstract way. None of them are important, and none of them will take you to the next level of understanding what the Bible is getting at with its revelation of the Trinity. The whole idea that it matters very much to figure out a good analogy for the Trinity is usually a sign that we’ve gotten hold of the doctrine by the wrong end. It’s possible to launch out on a quest for answers to questions that were never worth raising. If you keep your expectations very, very, very low, some Trinity analogies might be worth considering.

But it’s significant that God communicated the truth about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit without putting a single Trinity analogy in the Bible. What if God has actually already revealed what we need to know about what the eternal life of God is like, and did it without mentioning shamrocks or icebergs? What if the best way to understand the eternal fellowship of Father, Son, and Spirit is to understand that the Father sent the Son and the Spirit? What if the eternal God is like the Father sending the Son and the Spirit in the fullness of time, because from all eternity God is the Father, the eternally begotten Son, and the eternally proceeding Spirit? That would mean that when we tell the gospel story, we are already describing the character of God. That would mean that the Trinity and the gospel belong together as the basis of our faith and also as the beginning of our understanding.

Fred Sanders (PhD, Graduate Theological Union) is professor of theology at the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. Sanders is the author of The Deep Things of God and blogs at ScriptoriumDaily.com.

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December 14, 2018 by: David S. Dockery
We Need Guidelines

The richness of the Christian tradition can provide guidance for the complex challenges facing Christian higher education at this time. We believe not only that an appeal to tradition1 is timely but it also meets an important need because the secular culture in which we find ourselves is at best indifferent to the Christian faith and because the Christian world—at least in its more popular forms—tends to be confused about beliefs, heritage, and the tradition associated with the Christian faith.

So we learn from the apostle Paul . . . calling the churches back to the truth of the Christian faith.

The world in which we live, with its emphasis on diversity and plurality, may well be a creative setting for us to see what Thomas Oden refers to as a “paleo-orthodoxy” for the twenty-first century.2Here we ground our unity not only in the biblical confession that “Jesus is Lord” but also in the great confessional tradition flowing from the early church councils. The so-called postmodern world could indeed become a rich context for recovering a classical view of the Christian tradition.3The current educational emphasis on the interrelationship of all things allows us to speak intelligently of the Christian message historically and globally. Such historical confessions, though neither infallible nor completely sufficient for all contemporary challenges, can provide wisdom and guidance when seeking to balance the mandates for right Christian thinking, right Christian believing, and right Christian living.

At the heart of this calling is the need to prepare a generation of Christians to think Christianly, to engage the academy and the culture, to serve society, and to renew the connection with the church and its mission. To do so, the breadth and the depth of the Christian tradition will need to be reclaimed, renewed, revitalized, and revived for the good of Christian higher education.4

Avoiding the Extremes

Reconnecting with the great confessional tradition of the church will help us to avoid fundamentalist reductionism on the one hand and liberal revisionism on the other. Fundamentalist reductionism fails to understand that there are priorities or differences in the Christian faith. Fundamentalism often fails to distinguish between saying no to an inadequate confession of the deity of Christ and saying no to the wrong kind of movie. It fails to prioritize doctrines in a way consistent with the emphases of Scripture. Liberal revisionism, on the other hand, in its attempt to translate the Christian faith to connect with the culture, has often wound up revising the Christian faith instead of translating it.5To borrow words from the apostle Paul, we are then left with “no gospel at all” (Gal. 1:7 NIV). So we learn from the apostle Paul, who was willing to address opponents coming from different directions in Galatia and Colossae, calling the churches back to the truth of the Christian faith.

Notes:

  1. See G. R. Evans, “Tradition,” in Fitzgerald, Augustine through the Ages, 842–43.
  2. See Thomas C. Oden, The Rebirth of Orthodoxy: Signs of New Life in Christianity (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2003), 33–40.
  3. See David S. Dockery, The Challenge of Postmodernism: An Evangelical Engagement (Wheaton, IL: BridgePoint, 1995), 11–18. 18.
  4. David S. Dockery, series editor, Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition, projected 15 vols. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012–); D. H. Williams, Evangelicals and Tradition: The Formative Influence of the Early Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2005); Stephen R. Holmes, Listening to the Past: The Place of Tradition in Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002).
  5. See Alister E. McGrath, Evangelicalism and the Future of Christianity (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995).

This article is adapted from Christian Higher Education: Faith, Teaching, and Learning in the Evangelical Tradition edited by David S. Dockery and Christopher W. Morgan.

David S. Dockery (PhD, University of Texas) is the president of Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois, following more than eighteen years of presidential leadership at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. He is a much sought-after speaker and lecturer, a consulting editor for Christianity Today, and the author or editor of more than thirty books. Dockery and his wife, Lanese, have three sons and seven grandchildren.

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December 13, 2018 by: Kevin DeYoung
The (Anti-Christian) Moral Absolutes of Our Modern Culture - Vimeo
Morally Obligated

I remember twenty years ago when I was a college student and was teaching a Sunday school class at my church. One of the lessons that I had prepared was on moral relativism. I had read these books and was telling people about the great danger of moral relativism—of people saying “whatever truth you have is okay for you, and my truth is okay for me.”

That’s still out there, but I think we need to have our eyes open to the fact that now we are dealing with hardcore moral absolutists. Some things are moral relativist. When it comes to certain matters of sexuality, whatever you want to do is fine. And yet, you don’t have to press very hard to realize that our cultural context is one that is filled with moral obligations.

We live in a pervasively hortatory culture—filled with commands about all sorts of things.

Almost all of our hottest controversies in the public square are dealing with moral oughts. What sort of person ought you to be? What does it look like to really love people? Can you have this view of marriage and really love people?

Trading Old Rules for New Ones

I find now that it’s not that non-Christians in the culture are saying, “Would you just let us do what we want to do?” Perhaps they’re feeling like they were mistreated by Christians or like they have the cultural upper hand. Now the culture is saying, “Hey Christians, you better get in line because the morality that you claim to have from the Bible is not just benighted, it’s bigoted.”

There’s actually an opening here to talk about the ten commandments if people can have enough self-awareness to see their own ideas. We live in a pervasively hortatory culture—filled with commands about all sorts of things. We are very persnickety about what foods you could eat. We’ve just traded one set of rules for another.

So, we may be very laissez-faire about sex, but we’re very persnickety about foods. What kind of life did the chicken have and did it read Shakespeare? What was happening in that animal’s life?

We’ve exchanged one set of rules for another. Or, people will say, “Four-letter words are not a big deal. It’s the coarsening of our language.” And yet, we all realize that there are certain words that if you said today, you’d be fired tomorrow. You’d be out of your company or your school by the end of the day.

We live in a time of high moral obligation. The question is who gets to determine what those obligations are?

Kevin DeYoung (MDiv, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He serves as board chairman of the Gospel Coalition and blogs at DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed. He is assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte) and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. He is the author of several books, including Just Do Something; Crazy Busy; and The Biggest Story. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children.

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December 12, 2018 by: John Woodhouse
“JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS” (John 19:19)

I am sure that Pontius Pilate thought this was a stinging insult to the Jewish people whom he despised. For him the inscription was a cruel joke: this miserable victim was their king! We are told that the Jewish chief priests (understandably) repudiated the suggestion (John 19:21). For them the inscription was an offensive lie. However Pilate had unwittingly proclaimed the truth. The frail and fading man on the cross, about to breathe his last, was indeed “The King of the Jews.” Furthermore Pilate had unconsciously intimated the significance of this declaration for the whole world by putting his unintentionally prophetic message in the languages of the known world, Aramaic, Latin and Greek (John 19:20).

The message of “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2) is the greatest paradox in the history of the world. It defies all human wisdom. It is also the most profound, powerful and important truth in the world: it is “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24). The man who died on the cross is the savior of the world.

The crucified one was obviously unlike any king the world has known. In his own words, “My kingdom is not from [ESV, of] this world” (John 18:36). His reign would certainly impact this world, but not in the usual ways of this worldly political power.

The man who died on the cross is the savior of the world.

Pontius Pilate did not understand this, nor did the Jewish religious leaders who had delivered Jesus to the Roman authority and pressed for his execution. On an earlier occasion, in the context of similar failure to understand him, Jesus had said to the Jews who took offence at him:

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me . . .” (John 5:39)

“The Scriptures . . . that bear witness about me” (we call them the Old Testament) also illuminate the inscription that was placed over Jesus as he hung on the cross. These Scriptures “bear witness” to Jesus because they promise a king of the Jews1who will be the savior of the world (cf. John 4:42)!2

Listen Carefully

It is difficult to overstate the significance of this promise. According to the promise, this king will bring to fulfillment God’s wonderful purposes for his whole creation (see, for example, Isaiah 11:1-9). These purposes are summed up at the beginning of the Old Testament in the word “blessing” (see Genesis 1:22, 28; 2:3). God’s promise to Abraham, very early in the Old Testament story, was that “blessing” will reach “all the families of the earth” through Abraham and his “offspring” (see Genesis 12:1-3, 7; 13:15, 16; 15:5; 17:7, 8). The Old Testament then records the history of God’s faithfulness to this promise. The “offspring” of Abraham became the nation of Israel—by New Testament times called “the Jews.”3 In the course of this history God’s promise was repeatedly reaffirmed in ways that clarified its terms. In particular, the promise came to focus on a king (see Genesis 35:11; 49:10; 1 Samuel 2:10) whose kingdom God will establish “forever” (2 Samuel 7:16).

The notice on the cross of Jesus, if we see it in the light of these Scriptures, is breathtaking: “JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.” The one who died on that cross, despised and rejected by his own people (John 1:11), was the one who had been promised in these Scriptures. He is the hope of the world.

The book of 1 Kings tells the story of fourteen “kings of the Jews,” framed by King Solomon (chapters 1-11), arguably the greatest of them all, and King Ahab (16:29–22:40), certainly the worst of them all (so far). It is a story of power and politics in which we will learn many interesting and important things. By far the most important is the wonder of the extraordinary inscription that Pontius Pilate put on the cross—when seen in the light of these Scriptures. The story of these kings will (as Jesus put it) “bear witness about me.” Our task is to listen carefully to this testimony.

Notes

  1. Although the Old Testament never uses the phrase “king of the Jews,” the essentially synonymous expression “king over/of Israel” is prominent (1 Samuel 23:17; 2 Samuel 5:3, 12, 17; 12:7; 19:22; 1 Kings 1:34; 4:1; 11:37; 14:14; Proverbs 1:1; Ecclesiastes 1:12; cf. Ezekiel 37:22). Note how God himself is called “the King of Israel” in Isaiah 44:6 (cf. 43:15); Zephaniah 3:15. Jesus was called “the King of Israel” (Matthew 27:42; John 1:49; 12:13) as well as “the King of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2; 27:11, 29; John 19:3).
    Old Testament passages that contribute to this expectation include 2 Samuel 22:50, 51; Isaiah 2:1-5; 9:1-7; 11:1-11; Jeremiah 3:17; Amos 9:11-15
  2. “The Jews” is an expression that originally referred to the people of Judah (2 Kings 16:6, rv; Nehemiah 1:2, esv; Jeremiah 32:12, niv). However, even in biblical times the term was fluid. In later Old Testament times it could refer to the people of Israel in contrast to Gentiles (Esther 9:15-19; Daniel 3:8; Zechariah 8:23), a sense found also in the New Testament (John 4:9; Acts 14:1). The precise sense of the term must be considered in each context (see Esther 8:17!). For a useful summary see J. A. Sanders, “Jew, Jews, Jewess,” IDB 2, pp. 897, 898.

This article is adapted from 1 Kings: Power, Politics, and the Hope of the World by John Woodhouse.

John Woodhouse (DPhil, Victoria University of Manchester) served as principal of Moore Theological College in Sydney, Australia, from 2002 to 2013. Previously, he worked in pastoral ministry in a suburb of Sydney. He has published articles in various academic journals and is the author of two volumes in Crossway’s Preaching the Word commentary series.

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December 11, 2018 by: Crossway

“For I am not ashamed of the Gospel,
for it is the power of God for Salvation
to everyone who believes . . .”
—Romans 1:16

Dear Reader,

The Lord has indeed accomplished “far more . . . than all that we ask or think” and “to him be all glory . . . throughout all generations” (Ephesians 3:20, 21).

It is our joy to share several things below that the Lord has accomplished recently, as an encouragement to you and with our appreciation for your partnership in the Gospel with Crossway, as a not-for-profit ministry.

A Few Highlights . . .
  • 26 Million ESV Bibles – More than 26 million printed editions of the ESV Bible were published and distributed during the last 12 months—with most of these being complete Bibles or New Testaments distributed free through evangelistic ministry partnerships on six continents.

  • Africa and Asia – During 2017, 100,000 ESV Global Study Bibles were distributed free of charge to pastors and church leaders in 37 countries around the world. This brings the total to more than 350,000 ESV Global Study Bibles distributed free, with Crossway underwriting the complete cost during the last three years—to equip pastors and leaders in areas of great need, especially in Africa and Asia.

  • Prison Ministry – This last year, more than 34,000 Bibles, books and Gospel tracts were provided free through Crossway’s Free Literature Initiative to prison ministries in the US and to Crossway ministry partners in countries worldwide.

  • West Point – A special edition of the ESV Bible was presented free to more than 900 incoming cadets at The United States Military Academy, as Crossway now carries forward this annual West Point Bible distribution tradition started 149 years ago.

This Coming Year . . .

Many of the above efforts will be ongoing next year, and I would be most grateful for your continued prayers and gracious support for ministry projects such as those listed above, as well as for additional ministry initiatives that we are planning to undertake during 2019, including:

  • Strategic Translation Projects – Financial support of the translation of ESV Study Bible notes and resources into Arabic and Tamil—two major strategic languages that are spoken by as many as 343 million people across the globe. In all, we have 40 additional language translations of the ESV Study Bible notes that are in various stages of planning or development with publishing ministries around the world.

  • Mainland China – Though restrictions in China have become tighter recently, we are deeply grateful for the opportunity to publish about 100,000 copies of the Chinese Study Bible during this last year in partnership with the Chinese church throughout Mainland China, including the opportunity to provide a free copy of the Chinese Study Bible to 5,000 seminary students in China.

  • 1.6 Billion Free ESV Digital Accesses – We are likewise continuing to develop and expand the digital Bible resources that we are creating, for free distribution around the world. Through our open-handed commitment to provide the ESV free digitally everywhere in the world, the ESV Bible was accessed for free digitally more than 1.6 billion times in partnership with other global ministries.

In all of this, we want to express our deep gratitude to you for your partnership in the Gospel with Crossway, in this 80th year of celebrating God’s faithfulness and provision.

One of the founding verses for Crossway 80 years ago was Romans 1:16—“For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for Salvation to everyone who believes”—which continues to be at the heart of our entire publishing ministry and calling, as the Gospel of Jesus Christ our Lord is and continues to be the only way, the only truth, and the only hope of salvation, now and forever.

We would be grateful for your prayers and for your gracious consideration of an end-of-the-year donation to Crossway ministry projects, as the Lord leads you in His own way.

With our great thanksgiving, and with all glory to God alone,

In Christ our Savior,

Lane T. Dennis
President and CEO


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December 10, 2018 by: Joe Rigney
Are Christians Free to Enjoy Things of Earth? - Vimeo
A Tension

There is a tension in the Christian life for those of us who embrace that God calls us to a single-minded devotion to him. We believe and embrace that God is supreme in all things, that our deepest joy is found in him alone. And God has surrounded us with wonderful, beautiful, enjoyable, and delightful things—people, hobbies, and everything else. There is a tension of how do I bring this single-minded pursuit of God in relation to all the stuff. There are two dangers that we can fall into: idolatry and ingratitude.

Idolatry is when we feel that the things of earth are too precious to us, we love them too much. We don’t know what too much means but we love them too much and so we’re worried about idolatry.

The created world reveals. It makes invisible attributes visible. The heavens declare the glory of God.

On the other hand, we can be ungrateful. In order to avoid the idolatry danger, we keep things of earth at an arm’s length. We just kind of stiff-arm them a little bit because we don’t want them to become too precious to us. We don’t want them to distract us and so we thin out creation in a pious desire to seek the glory of God alone or above all things. As a result, God’s trying to give us things, he’s being generous and open-handed and we’re saying No, stop.

That’s the tension that most Christians feel and it comes from the fact that we're separating the gifts of God from God by putting him on one side of the scales and all of the good things in our lives on the other side, saying let’s see which one of those is more valuable and more precious.

Knowing God through His Gifts

If you do that, the only biblically right answer is God is. Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also. I’ve got God and that’s enough. Everything else is loss compared to him.

That’s a comparative way of thinking about God's relation to his gifts, but it’s not the only way. I think this is what many Christians can miss. Don't just think of them as a zero-sum game of either this or this because these things are actually designed to lead us to God.

It’s through the gifts that we come to know him more fully. That’s what might be called an integrated approach—where we’re enjoying everything in God and we’re enjoying God in everything because everything is a revelation, manifestation, expression, declaration of who he is, what he’s like. The created world reveals. It makes invisible attributes visible. The heavens declare the glory of God.

For His Sake

We can find God everywhere, and if we do that, then all of reality becomes an invitation. Everything in reality from our family to our food to our hobbies to the natural world—all of it is God saying, Come, know me in very deep and real way, because you’ve known the things that I’ve made.

That comparative approach is valuable. It must be done. We have to say, Whom have I in heaven but you? On earth there's nothing I desire besides you. Then having done that, having established deep in our soul that God is supreme, we love him above all. Then, we recover and he gives them back to us and says, “Now enjoy them for my sake.”

That’s a wonderful biblical balance between comparing God and his creation and then enjoying his creation for his sake.

Joe Rigney (MA, Bethlehem College and Seminary) is assistant professor of theology and Christian worldview at Bethlehem College and Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is the author of Live Like a Narnian: Christian Discipleship in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles and The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and two sons.

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