Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Viewing the Biological Family & the Culture through the Two Kingdom Theology Lens

I listened to the Confessing Baptist Podcast #42 aired on February 18, 2014, which featured Pastor Larry Vincent on Baptists and Two Kingdom Theology Part 1.  I had never thought about this topic in terms of the biological family or the culture, so I thought it would be helpful to share the insight of Pastor Vincent.  I am quoting extensively from the interview; therefore, I've made minor grammatical edits to the text below to help the reading flow (any emphasis is mine).
What is the doctrine of Two Kingdom Theology?  As Paul taught in his epistles, our citizenship is in heaven.  While we are in this temporary age in the nation in which we have been providentially placed, we have an obvious citizenship in an earthly nation, but nevertheless, we are pilgrims and sojourners here; and therefore, via faith in Jesus Christ our New Covenant King, we belong to a coming eternal kingdom or age.  The truth of the Two Kingdom Theology is that we are in a common kingdom under the Noahic Covenant and in the spiritual kingdom under the New Covenant.

The Covenant of Grace is promised in the Abrahamic Covenant, but it is not accomplished until the New Covenant.  This takes the whole concept of the place of the biological family out of the equation which is foundational to the understanding of Two Kingdom Theology.  The Covenant of Grace is accomplished and implemented in the New Covenant, which means the biological family is really out of the equation the way the paedobaptists view it.  As [Reformed] Baptists we catechize our children; we do not undermine our responsibilities as parents for our children, but we see them outside of Christ, outside of the Covenant, because our children are people who need to be evangelized in the process of their upbringing...We are to be focused on our primary human relationship which is our church membership, an eternal human relationship in Christ...The Two Kingdom Theology frees us from the confusion of including the biological family in the spiritual kingdom, when it is obviously part of the common kingdom of this temporary age.  Mothers and brothers are those who do the will of God, thus the character and shape of the New Covenant family is not the biological family, but we do pray that our children will become part of it and work toward that end.

Quoting from Living in God's Two Kingdoms by David Vandrunen:  Our responsibility in our nation, the common kingdom, is anchored in the Noahic Covenant, (Gen. 8:20-9:17).  This is the scriptural foundation of our relationship with our nation that we find ourselves living in by God's providence.  This Two Kingdom doctrine strongly affirms that God has made all things, that sins corrupts all aspects of life, that Christians should be active in human culture, that all lawful cultural vocations are honorable, that all people are accountable to God in every activity, and that every Christian should seek to live out the implications of their faith in daily vocations.  A biblical Two Kingdom doctrine provides another compelling way to look at this whole issue of culture.  God is not redeeming the cultural activities and institutions of this world, but is preserving them through the covenant He made with all living creatures through Noah.  It is important not to make Christian ghettos, but it's also important that we not saddle ourselves with this impossible redemption of our culture or society.  We take felt guilt upon ourselves, not biblical guilt.  We are not responsible for the decay of our culture; if anything, we are a preserving agent.  We do not want to presume upon our God, if He chooses to see the decay of our culture and raise up another, that's His business; our job is to be faithful.  Therefore, Christians should be concerned with reforming their life to meet those things regarding sanctification, holiness, and the personal pursuit of Christ in the Scriptures.  That's what we reform.  Are we to be culturally active?  At times, yes; and at times, no.  The local church is not a resource for fixing the culture that we live in.

What is the relation of Christian liberty and the Ten Commandments to Two Kingdom Theology?  Two Kingdom Theology teaches us to focus on fulfilling the dictates of Christian law and ethics in both kingdoms.  The confession [LBCF] fleshes out the law of God and distinguishes it from the commandments of men, while liberty stays in place; but liberty is not license.  It is clear in the confession and Scriptures that we are taught to pursue holiness and to follow the dictates of Christian law and ethics in both kingdoms; therefore, we should properly fulfill them in both kingdom.  As Americans, we tend to confuse the two.  We have different responsibilities to our local church, which is our primary expression of our responsibility to the spiritual kingdom, than to the common kingdom.  The local church is not a resource center for money and time and energy to fix the problems in this culture.  We are to look at our church as a place of resource (money, time, & energy) to accomplish the reformation primarily in personal holiness that Christ has called us to, which God may or may not use in the changing of the culture around us.
"Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation," (1 Peter 1:13-15).

Monday, February 24, 2014

Answering the Condemnation of the Conscience

An excerpt from The Doctrine of the Law and Grace by John Bunyan (transcribed from a copy of the original book found here, but no longer available):
"Objection:  But (saith the soul) how if after I have received a pardon I should commit treason again?  What should I do then?

Answer:  Set the case thou hast committed abundance of treason, he hath by him abundance of pardons.  Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return to the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will ABUNDANTLY pardon.

Sometimes I myself have been in such a straight, that I have been (almost) driven to my wits ends with a sight and sense of the greatness of my sins: but calling to mind that God was God in his mercy, pity, and love, as well as in his holiness, justice, etc.  And again considering the ability of the satisfaction that was given to holiness and justice, to the end there might be way made for sinners to lay hold of this mercy; I say, I considering this when tempted to doubt and despair, I have answered in this manner.

"Lord here is one of the greatest sinners that ever the ground bare.  A sinner against the Law, and a sinner against the Gospel.  I have sinned against light, and I have sinned against mercy; and now Lord the guilt of them breaks my heart, the devil also he would have me despair, telling of me that thou art so far from hearing my prayers in this my distress, that I cannot anger thee worse, then to call upon thee; for faith he, thou art resolved for ever to damn and not to grant me the least of thy favor: yet Lord I would fain have forgiveness.  And thy word though much may be inferred from it against me; yet it saith, If I come unto thee thou wilt in no wise cast me out.  Lord, shall I honor thee most by believing thou canst pardon my sins, or by believing thou canst not?  Shall I honor thee most by believing thou wilt pardon my sins, or by believing thou wilt not?  Shall I honor the blood of thy Son also by despairing, that the virtue thereof is not sufficient, or by believing that it is sufficient to purge me from all my blood-red and crimson sins?  Surely, thou that couldest find so much mercy as to pardon Manasseh, Mary Magdalen, the three thousand murderers persecuting Paul, murderous and adulterous David, and blaspheming Peter, thou that offeredst mercy to Simon Magus a witch, and didst receive the astrologers  and conjurers in the nineteenth of Acts, thou hast mercy enough for one poor sinner.  Lord, see the case my sins were bigger then all these, and I less deserved mercy then any of these: yet thou hast said in thy word, that he that cometh to thee, thou wilt in no wise cast out.

And God hath given comfort to my soul, even to such a sinner as I am: and I tell you, there is no way so to honor God, and to beat out the devil as to stick to the truth of God's Word, and the merits of Christ's blood by believing."
"There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit," (Rom. 8:1).

Friday, February 21, 2014

Book Review: Eternity Changes Everything

In Eternity Changes Everything: How to Live Now in the Light of Your Future by Stephen Witmer, we are told:  "Our view of our future in this life affects how we live.  As we'll see in this book, that is true also of our future beyond this life."  This proposed thesis by the author is not well-defined; the scope is too broad and the audience is never identified.  In the beginning chapters, the author seems to write directly to Christian believers, but in Chapter 5, Mr. Witmer gives an incomplete Gospel message to "others [who] find themselves condemned to enduring existence without anything good."  The unbelieving reader is told to just believe, (Kindle location 545), without any reference to repentance, (see Mark 1:14-15).

Without warning, Mr. Witmer redefines his thesis in Chapter 6:  "The central point of this book is that Christians are meant to live, in a healthy, exhilarating, joyful, productive, frustrating, painful, challenging tension between restlessness and patience."  He then goes on to use the illustration of tightrope walking as a metaphor for the Christian life of balancing patience with restlessness.  The author creates a man-centered, works-based system to balance not only the life of a Christian, but also the world itself because "the earth we improve now is the earth God will perfect then," (Kindle location 1261).  He concludes by asking the reader:  "Do you "think of the other world?"  The more you do, the more good you'll do in and for this one," (Kindle location 1299).

Mr. Witmer's writing style is very incoherent.  His sentences lack clarity and precision, and he repeats the same idea throughout the book without adding content.  I found myself rereading many passages just to understand the point he was trying to make.  In addition, the logical flow between paragraphs and chapters is not always evident; it was difficult to discern how his ideas were connected.

The author opens most of the chapters with a personal experience that reinforces the chapter title, and then validates the truth of that encounter by citing Scripture.  He employs a method of writing that focuses more on himself and how his life explains Scripture, rather than on Jesus Christ and what Scripture actually says.  An autobiography is not the proper hermeneutical approach to exegete a biblical passage.

The most alarming criticism I have of this book is Mr. Witmer's positive acknowledgment of the New Testament scholar N.T. Wright, (Kindle location 1198).  N.T. Wright is a retired Anglican bishop associated with the New Perspective on Paul (NPP).  In his article 'The New Perspective on Paul Part 3', Pastor Gary Gilley of Southern View Chapel says:  "In the NPP, justification has nothing to do with salvation and everything to do with the church, or community... In order to make the NPP “work” it becomes necessary to redefine or deny fundamental doctrines of the faith."

While the author doesn't necessarily advocate the New Paul Perspective, his use of words seem to indicate the same tactics used by the NPP in redefining generally accepted biblical terms.  While reading this book, I was uncomfortable with the author's use of unconventional words such as 'restlessness' instead of 'waiting', 'resurrection life' instead of 'eternal life', and 'new creation' instead of 'a new heaven and a new earth'.  These trendy words give me the impression that Mr. Witmer has a different meaning for them than the traditional Christian understanding.

For example, Mr. Witmer generally refers to the 'new creation' as a place.  However, he reveals a slight redefinition of the concept when he says:  "When people see us, they should catch a glimpse of the greatness of the new creation, the beauty of forever with God...We're home and we're homesick, because the new creation is really here in us, but not fully here in this world," (Kindle location 997).  The Bible says that if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature, (1 Cor. 5:17); believers are sealed with the Holy Spirit and conformed to the image of Christ, (Eph. 1:13; Rom. 8:29).  Therefore, people should see Jesus in believers, not any image of heaven.  Because of the author's unusual word usage and subsequent equivocation, he implies the gnostic view that heaven is inside man, which is similar to the heretical teachings found in the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas.

Eternity is changed for a Christian because of Christ's redemptive work on the cross and His subsequent ascension into heaven; it has nothing to do with man or what he does on this earth.  Therefore, based on the author's man-centered view of eternity, I cannot recommend this book.

Full Disclosure:  I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

NB:  The formatting for the Kindle version does not include an interactive table of contents which makes is very difficult to navigate through the book.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Second Commandment

I've been listing to a teaching series on the Ten Commandments by Pastor Jeff Young of Grace Reformed Baptist Church in Bonham, Texas.  On February 16, 2014, he preached on the proper worship of God based on the Second Commandment from Exodus 20:4-6 and showed how King Jeroboam led Israel into sin by not worshiping God properly, (1 Kings 12:25-33).

Pastor Young expounded the Regulative Principle of Worship, which states that the ordinances of worship are only found in the Bible, and looked at what God requires of us in the Second Commandment by forbidding us to:
  • Decide within our own heart how to worship God
  • Decide how to worship God based on the consensus of other people
  • Say God's commands are too difficult to obey
  • Use man-made things to represent God in worship
  • Worship God wherever we please
  • Worship God through a priest set up by man
  • Substitute holidays devised by man's imagination for the day that God has made holy; such as celebrating Mother's Day, Father's Day, or a birthday on the Lord's Day
  • Try to do by ourselves only what Jesus has accomplished on our behalf (i.e. prayer)
Therefore, we should only worship God by His Word through faith in Jesus Christ.

"Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device," (Acts 17:29).

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Importance of Discernment

In R.C. Sproul's St. Andrew's Expository Commentary on Acts, the Epilogue cites 2 Timothy 4:6-22 and talks about Paul's last days on earth.  The following excerpt is found on page 433:
"Paul's death is very close, yet the words he used were "my departure is at hand."  The Greek word translated "departure" is the word analusis, from which we get the English word analysis.  So a more literal translation might be "the time of my analysis is near."  If Paul were to write that today, we would think that he had an appointment with a psychiatrist or a tax attorney.  When the term analysis was first coined, it was closer to the original Greek meaning.  To analyze something was to parse it, to make close and careful distinctions as one part of something was separated from another.  Paul was saying that in a very short time his body was going to be separated from his soul.  He would still be alive, and his soul would enter into the presence of Christ, though his body would be put into a grave."
That sounds very scholarly, but from the Noah Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language, a derivative is a word which takes its origin in another word, or is formed from it.  Therefore, the derivative analysis does not define analusis because a derivative does not define the origin of the word; it's the other way around.  You can get an idea of what a derivative word means when you know the original word, which  is one of the benefits of learning Latin and Greek.  However, it is illogical to say that the word 'analysis' is a "more literal translation" than departure because it is a derivation of the Greek word.  I'm very surprised that paragraph made it through the editing process.  It's important to look at the logic of the argument and not just the grammar or the nice sounding idea.

My desire is to develop a higher level of biblical discernment, which is why I started this blog and why I want to have a working knowledge of Koine Greek.  I also want our boys to understand the importance of discernment.  One of the advantages of homeschooling is the ability to teach them logic and rhetoric.  These skills equip them to read and write based on the truth of God's word and not what's politically correct or academically accepted.
 
As Christians, we should all be biblically discerning in this present age.

"For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil," (Heb. 5:12-14).

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Book Review: Spiritual Warfare

Spiritual Warfare: A Biblical and Balanced Perspective by Brian S. Borgman & Rob Ventura looks at the spiritual warfare in a Christian's life.  The authors take a Christ-centered approach on the subject and "want to remind the church of this war...and to help Christians to be equipped and to think and fight biblically in a practical way."  The authors tackled a relevant topic for all Christians that is not discussed in many books or churches today.  The flow of the book is very systematic, but the writing is still very engaging.  Even though two authors are listed, I found their writing styles to be very similar; the flow between the chapters is very smooth and natural.

In the Introduction, the two extremes of spiritual warfare are identified:  (1) Those who deny the existence of demonic activity, and (2) those who attribute everything to demonic activity.  The authors encourage Christians to take a balanced approach.  Christians "have been delivered from Satan's dominion through the finished work of Christ, yet we still battle."  The primary focus of the book is not on Satan, but on Christ, because how Christians think about spiritual warfare is critical.

Throughout the book, the authors expound Ephesians 6:10-20.  They start off by looking at the city of Ephesus and defining the Apostle Paul's call to be strong in the Lord.  The rest of the book describes the full armor of God, piece by piece from head to foot, and explains how equipped Christians fight against Satan's wiles.  I appreciated the authors' citation of other scriptural verses to support their arguments, and they highlighted the fact that God's armor is not just a New Testament idea, but it's found in the Old Testament as well.

Spiritual Warfare has questions For Reflection and Discussion at the end of each chapter; therefore, it can be used for personal or small group study.  I particularly liked the thought provoking questions at the end of Chapter 3 on 'The Schemes of the Devil.'  This chapter does a great job of identifying areas in your life where the Satan can attack, and I found it very profitable to identify the tactics Satan has used against me in the past.  Even though I found the questions helpful throughout the book, I did find some of them very personal in nature, and therefore, all questions may not be suitable for small group discussion.

Additionally, this book includes 3 appendices:  (1) The Sovereignty of God and Satan, (2) Can a Christian Be Demon-Possessed?, and (3) Christian, Pray for Your Pastors!  Like the rest of the book, these three topics are amply covered and include much needed information for the Christian.  Since the book is only 128 pages long, I think it would have prudent to include these chapters within the text because they are very relevant to the topic, and readers don't always read the supplementary information in the back of a book.

Steve Lawson sums up the importance of this book in his Foreword:  "The Christian life is not a playground.  Rather, it is a battlefield of spiritual warfare."  Therefore, I highly recommend reading Spiritual Warfare because the "mind is a major battlefield," and this book teaches you how to think and act biblically in a war that is often over-looked.

Full Disclosure:  I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Timely Reminder

I was stirred to "seek help from above" by this morning's entry in Charles Spurgeon's devotional, Morning and Evening:
"Beloved Christian reader, in matters of grace you need a daily supply.  You have no store of strength.  Day by day must you seek help from above.  It is a very sweet assurance that a daily portion is provided for you.  In the word, through the ministry, by meditation, in prayer, and waiting upon God you shall receive renewed strength.  In Jesus all needful things are laid up for you.  Then enjoy your continual allowance.  Never go hungry while the daily bread of grace is on the table of mercy."
But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus," (Phil. 4:19).

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Should We Be Like the Bereans?

Luke describes the Apostle Paul's missionary encounter with the Bereans in Acts 17:10-11:  "And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews.  These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with the readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so."  This passage encourages Christians to read and study the Bible daily.  Likewise, Christians are further exhorted in 2 Tim. 2:15 to "study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."

Passages like these inspire me to learn more about God's word.  As I continue my daily reading, I've found Strong's Comprehensive Concordance of the Bible to be a very helpful study aid.  I'm not looking to reinterpret the Bible; my goal is to clarify my understanding and make my knowledge more precise.

Last week I listened to the podcast of The Dividing Line aired on February 4, 2014During the program, Dr. James White answered a question about the word 'world' (translated from 'kosmos' in the Greek) in John 3:16.  He made the following statement (around 41:40):  "Any situation where you try to cram one single meaning of 'kosmos' into every usage, what I call the Strong's Exhaustive Concordance Errant Methodology of Study, you are going to end up twisting the passages that your are in."

From my on-line exposure to Dr. White, it is evident that he is a very intelligent man.  He boldly defends the Gospel and has a history of debating Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, Roman Catholics, KJV-Onlyists, and more recently, Muslims.  Yet, there's an arrogancy about him that I find incredibly offensive at times.  In the past Dr. White was able to properly use a resource and determine the biblical meaning of 'kosmos'.  But a Christian who uses Strong's Concordance does not know how to use it properly, and therefore, twists the meaning of 'kosmos'.

Christians who define biblical words out of context use many resources, not just Strong's Concordance.  Therefore, it is presumptuous to refer to this specific resource as the "Strong's Exhaustive Concordance Errant Methodology of Study".  This label implies that all Christians who use it are unable to think and read a biblical passage in context.  The academic elitist view that laypeople cannot read and study the Scriptures for themselves is clearly seen in Roman Catholicism.  Even those who debate against this heretical system can be blinded by the ecumenical move toward academia within the evangelical world today.

"But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness," (2 Tim. 2:16).

Monday, February 10, 2014

Book Review: Prophet on the Run

Prophet on the Run:  A Devotional Commentary on the Book of Jonah, written by Baruch Maoz, is "designed to convey an understanding of the biblical text, intimate some of its practical implications, and engage the reader in examining his heart and life in light of what he has learned.  It is meant for Mr. and Mrs. Anybody, at just about any age."  Mr. Maoz clearly indicates that this book is not meant to be a study or technical commentary, and he includes his own translation of the Hebrew "so as to more clearly convey a sense of its poetry, its imagery and its flow so that the reader will be enabled to get at the author's intent without having to deal with technicalities."

In the Introduction, Mr. Maoz stresses the fact that the Book of Jonah is a historical narrative and gives helpful historical background of the time period in which Jonah lived and information about the prophet himself.  He also states that the purpose of the Book of Jonah is to show God's kindness, patience, and sovereignty, the impossibility of resisting God, personal responsibility, and true repentance, but in doing so, he misses what the New Testament tells us about Jonah:  "For as Jonas [Jonah] was a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of man be to this generation," (Luke 11:30).  Therefore, Jonah is a type of Christ.  Jonah was a prophet, called and anointed to preach to the Ninevites, which points us ultimately to Jesus Christ who was called and anointed to rescue God's elect.  The author discusses many of the practical purposes of Book of Jonah, but unfortunately, he neglects the foreshadowing of Christ.

Mr. Maoz has an engaging writing style, and I enjoyed reading through his book.  In Chapter 1, he correctly states that all of mankind are bound by God's law and will be judged by it; therefore, a man will only understand the need of a Savior, when he recognizes his sin in contrast to God's holiness.  However, he fails to identify this Savior as Jesus Christ until the chapter summary.  There is a short Gospel presentation in Chapter 2 (Kindle location 354), but since this commentary was written to Mr. & Mrs. Anybody at any age, then I think a clear Gospel presentation should have been included earlier in the book.  It is important for any Old Testament commentary to point out Jesus Christ in the text, and when it does not clearly and adequately do this, the commentary does not give sufficient weight to the Gospel.

I appreciated the summary statements listed at the end of each chapter, and I also liked the application questions scattered throughout the chapters.  However, I did not find the Questions for Discussions at the end of each chapter very helpful.  The questions were usually very broad and in the form of "What have you learned?" or "Why is it important?", which is an open-ended format that is very generic.  The application questions within the chapters prompted more thought and introspection.  For example, in Chapter 6 Mr. Maoz talks about the repentant response of the king of Nineveh to Jonah's preaching and then asks how the reader responds to criticism and how quickly he examines himself.  It was a great reminder to see every criticism as an opportunity for self-examination and growth.

Even though I found the book enjoyable to read, I do have some reservations in recommending it.  First, Mr. Maoz decided to include his personal translation of the Book of Jonah, which I do not think is biblical, (see 2 Peter 1:20); therefore, I read the Scripture references for each chapter from my Bible and then read the author's commentary.  He also states his opinion as fact as he captivates the reader with his embellishments to the biblical narrative.  Specifically in Chapter 2, Mr. Maoz provides a far greater description of the storm than what is in the Bible.  He also reveals what he thinks are the thoughts & motives of the sailors in the storm.  These elaborations are stated without any indication that they are not part of the biblical text.

Additionally, even though he states that the Book of Jonah is a historical narrative, at times Mr. Maoz treats the text as prescriptive.  For example, in Chapter 1 he states that Jonah's sins endangered the ship's sailors and passengers, and then goes on to warn parents that their sins can have damaging consequences on their children (Kindle location 427).  This may or may not be the case, but we should not read ourselves into biblical texts; we are not Jonah.  As the New Testament shows us, the Book of Jonah points us to Jesus Christ who came to rescue and redeem His elect just like Jonah was sent to rescue and redeem the people of Nineveh by the hand of the Lord.

In conclusion, I recommend this book with the caveat that the reader should be mindful of Mr. Maoz's literary liberty with the scriptural text and be discerning of his prescriptive suggestions made from a narrative passage.

Full Disclosure:  I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.