Bible Study Seminar Material

Rightly Dividing

All material from the Rightly | Dividing seminar is now available for free to anyone interested. I summarized the goal of the seminar as follows in my original announcement here on the Void:

Rightly | Dividing aims to move believers beyond personal Bible reading to Bible study. There are many useful Bible reading plans, and for that matter, much excellent material is available from good Bible teachers. But this seminar hopes to train people how to understand and depend on the Book, not only on teachers of the Book.

The mp3 audio, m4v files with my slides synced to the audio, and my notes for each session are good to go. Take whatever you want from approximately six hours of teaching, including topics such as how to prepare for study, basic principles (hermeneutics) for Bible study, how to find the point of a paragraph, and recommended tools for further study.

Portrait of a World-Changer

Series | Repentance

Augustine Sandro Botticelli’s first major fresco commissioned in 1480: Saint Augustine

Augustine of Hippo may be the most important man in church history. German historian, Adolf Harnack, called him the greatest man “between Paul the apostle and Luther the Reformer, the Christian church has possessed” (quoted in Piper, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy, 24).1 Of course, Martin Luther was an Augustinian monk for many years, and my personal hero, John Calvin, quoted Augustine no less than 342 times in the fifth and final edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion. B.B. Warfield summarized Augustine’s impact as follows:

His direct work as a reformer of Church life was done in a corner, and its results were immediately swept away by the flood of the Vandal invasion…[but] it was through his voluminous writings, by which his wider influence was excited, that he entered both the church and the world as a revolutionary force, and not merely created an epoch in the history of the Church, but has determined the course of its history in the West up to the present day. (quoted in Piper, 24-25)

We owe much of our thinking and theology to Augustine, in particular, “our developed anthropology and soteriology, [and] our understanding of the Bible’s teaching on the relations between human sin and divine grace” (Nick Needham, “Augustine of Hippo: The Relevance of His Life and Thought Today”, SBJT 12/2 SUMMER 2008, 39). We stand downstream in the torrent of his teaching on original sin and the sovereignty of God.

There are a few reasons, however, that understanding his life and thought is difficult for us. First, Augustine lived from AD 354-430, so we are removed almost 1600 years from his culture, language, and experience.

Not only is the time gap difficult to jump, but also the mountain of his writings makes for a grueling climb. Few can claim to have read everything written by him, and none can claim to have read everything written about him. There are more than five million words in his recorded works (especially remarkable considering he had no electricity, let alone a computer). There are almost 600 words in this post, so it would take over 8,333 posts pasted together to reach five million words. Benedict Groeschel, a Catholic historian, wrote an introduction to Augustine’s life and said,

I felt like a man beginning to write a guidebook of the Swiss Alps….After forty years I can still meditate on one book of the Confessions…during a week-long retreat and come back feeling frustrated that there is still so much more gold to mind in those few pages. I, for one, know that I shall never in this life escape from the Augustinian Alps. (quoted in Piper, 45).

The other difficulty is that, among those five million words, we find numerous contradictions, including some teachings that we would say are clearly unbiblical. I hate, for example, Augustine’s allegorical interpretation of numerous Old Testament passages (his approach to Genesis narrative is atrocious). Worse than his hermeneutic, Augustine seems to have attributed special, or sadly, even saving power to baptism. We do not agree with him here at all.

But for all that, I am convinced, now more than ever, that we need Augustine for our souls and for our churches, which in turn would change our world. I’ll explain why I think he’s so helpful and try to make my case as we follow two lines of thought in the following posts: the chronology of his life and the confessions of his life.


  1. A free PDF download of this book is available here. The book also includes chapters on Luther and Calvin. It is currently #8 on my list of books that influenced me the most. The original manuscript and audio of Piper’s biography on Augustine is available here.

Faith by Hearing

Mo gifted me with my first iPod on my 30th birthday in 2004. Not only I have moved out of Music Naysayer Neighborhood since then, but more importantly, I have eaten up countless hours of solid food while legging it on my treadmill. A couple years ago I listed a few of my favorite online audio resources and, now with Grace to You making all their audio available for free, it seemed like a good time to update those links.

*While searching for some Augustinian material1 back in January, I also stumbled across a new-to-me, fantastic audio resources site with a fitting name, Faith by Hearing.

Faith by Hearing is designed to collect and categorize the ever-growing availability of great Reformed and conservative evangelical audio preaching & teaching that has a high view of God and Scripture.

You can read more about the site here. While I very much recommend subscribing, the on-site categorization is really quite useful. Browse by biblical book, by doctrine, by history, by person/preacher, by topic, or by venue. As long as you have an internet connection, not even a lion in the road can keep you from feasting on this sermon smorgasbord.


  1. Google dropped me off at the Augustine of Hippo Series by Steve Lawson.

Eyes to See

Series | Repentance

We learn much about seven churches’ problems in Revelation 2-3. Five of the seven addresses include the command to repent, by the way: Ephesus for lost love, Pergamum for failing to confront false teachers, Thyratira for allowing sin in the church, and Sardis for sleeping. But the last church addressed, the lukewarm Laodiceans, may be the closest parallel to us. Their presumed spiritual prosperity was really poverty, and Jesus implored them to be zealous and repent.

How can we fix our broken hearts, our broken churches, and our broken culture? Is it possible for our souls to be spiritually rich and righteous? Is it possible for our churches to be spiritually hot and bright lights in our culture? The answer is a resounding Yes! And what we need is repentance.

Things are not good, yet we are indifferent, and worse, ignorant of our indifference. We often fail to see sin for what it really is. Sin deceives us, offering us substitute, short-term joy of second-rate quality. Our churches suffer as a result. As our personal interests are worldly, so are our corporate programs. As our souls are apathetic, our local bodies grow perilously anemic.

We need a change. We need repentance. We need Augustine. Similar to today, “The congregations who heard Augustine preach were not exceptionally sinful. Rather, they were firmly rooted in long-established attitudes, in ways of life and ideas, to which Christianity was peripheral” (Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 247). He “preached to men who thought they knew what the Christian life consisted of” (ibid., 244).

Maybe more than anyone else in church history, Augustine of Hippo wrestled with blinding, joy-stealing sin. He was afraid to let loose of his lusts for fear that he would lose joy.

But in his Confessions, Augustine described God’s sovereign reproof and loving discipline that lead him to repentance. We will consider his life and his teaching, throughout this continuing series, as someone outside our century, who may give us perspective and remedy for the problems in our own day. By God’s grace, we may have our eyes opened. Or, as John wrote in Revelation 3:22,

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Pink Ox 2.0

In March of 2005, I posted the original pink ox logo from Jesse Martin. I’ve used it as my Gravatar here at the Void, for my Twitter picture, and to identify my online persona at various other internet sites. For those that may not have noticed, it looks like this:

Pink Ox

But Jesse worked his Adobe Suite brilliance again this week, and I’m thinking the new insignia may start propagating across the web in the next few days. You may now enjoy the Pink Ox 2.0.

Pink Ox 2.0

The Invitation

Series | Repentance

The richest, most cherished fellowship awaits the repentant.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.

Jesus is close. He says, I stand at the door and knock. Differing arguments are made as to whether Jesus stands at the door of unbelievers’ hearts, or at the door of sinful, lukewarm believers’ hearts, or if He was standing at the actual door of the Laodicean church.

The singular pronouns indicate a personal rather than corporate knocking: “if anyone,” “come to him,” “eat with him,” “he with Me,” “the one who conquers.” At the same time, the passage is addressed to the church. Therefore, I think the invitation is to those who were in the church, who may have been indifferent to, and ignorant of, their spiritual condition. The ones who didn’t even realize what they were missing are now graciously summoned to intimacy with their Master.

Jesus is pictured as the master returning to his house (cf. Luke 12:35-36), whose servants should be alert, attentive, and eagerly awaiting their master’s arrival. They know that the master is their good, not the things that he left behind in his house. Jesus offers Himself to the repentant, to those who give up their ignorant claims to prosperity, who want Him more than anything else. Of course, only those He loves will actually get up and open the door.

Jesus emphasizes sweet communion, eating face to face with His servant over dinner. No other relationship in the universe provides such soul fulfillment. For that matter, no other religion in the world offers a man such personal intimacy with His Lord.

Even more, as He did with the previous churches, those who conquer or overcome will reign with Jesus on His throne. This promise anticipates the rest of the book of Revelation, the King’s second coming, and the final destiny of the world. The invitation is to fellowship that begins now and that we will enjoy forever. But, as the entire paragraph makes clear, that intimacy is a result of repentance.

The Imperatives

Series | Repentance

There is only one approach to receive His generous gifts offered in verse 18. There is only one path to escape spiritual poverty, shame, and blindness. There is only one source of fulfillment, honor, and sight. There is only one program to exchange indifference and ignorance for intensity, only one way to avoid being spit out of Christ’s mouth: repentance.

Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.

According to verse 19, Jesus doesn’t leave the ones He loves in a lukewarm condition, at least not for long. He will reprove and discipline; He will correct and train. In this context of spiritual lukewarmness, the design of Jesus’ discipline is to fire up His beloved.

At least two implications stand out about Christ’s loving correction. First, do we realize that conviction is a blessing? If we don’t know something is wrong we’re unlikely to seek a remedy. Perhaps our current misery is a training grace to turn our attention to the One who makes rich.

Second, do we realize that indifference is a judgment? Apathy is bad. Ignorant apathy is worse. Being left in ignorant apathy is the worst! God curses us when He affords us with what we think we want. Unchecked unconcern not only leaves us in the ditch, it also demonstrates we are not loved by Jesus.

I’m afraid this is where many in our churches are today. Things aren’t good, around us or in us, and we don’t care. We go on, desperately trying to act like things are okay. Our affections are lukewarm. But if our love is regularly running low, we may be experiencing God’s judgment, not His blessing.

He doesn’t allow His own to go on unaware forever. His tender, loving discipline brings those He loves to repentance.

So be zealous and repent. These are the two imperatives. The indictment is not final or irreversible, if we will repent. “Lukewarmness is not necessarily terminal” (Thomas 318), and that is good news.

The first command is Be zealous. It confronted the predominant Laodicean problem. Jesus required His followers to be hot, on fire, boiling over with zeal. The command to be zealous comes first for emphasis, but second in sequence.

That’s because the spiritual heart-fires spark when we repent. Proper passion is the result of repentance, otherwise we could be (presumably, and incongruously) excited about being cold.

Repent fundamentally means “change one’s mind.” Repentance includes ownership of our wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked state. Repentance makes no claims of possessing what we need. Repentance turns from self-sufficiency, self-righteousness, and self-justification. It comes with empty hands to the only One who can fill them.

We wrongly think about repentance as giving up what we really love for what someone told us we should like better. With reluctance we turn away from what was sure to please us in the past, even though the pleasure was temporary. But we miss that repentance is not a turning from pleasure to empty handedness. Repentance is a turning from a mirage of pleasures to the real, highest, and substantial pleasures. He makes rich! He covers our nakedness! He opens our eyes to finally see what is truly glorious! And the doorway into spiritual fullness is repentance.

The Instruction

Series | Repentance

Sin not only offends God, it ruins us. It not only robs God of His glory, it also steals our joy. Sin makes us soul-poor. Sin exposes our shame. Sin blinds us. Therefore, the restoration of spiritual prosperity begins as we abandon sin, renounce self-sufficiency, and seek all our good in Christ.

I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.

Herein is the Lord’s gracious instruction. He counsels the Laodiceans to buy what is priceless, to purchase great spiritual benefits though they were bereft of any personal resources. Christ pressed the Laodiceans to do business with Him; He was (and is) the sole-supplier of these goods.

He listed three objects for them to buy: gold, white garments, and eye-salve. Each of the three objects struck close to home for the Laodiceans, known for their wealth, their wool, and their medicine. But Jesus wasn’t opening a competing marketplace on an adjacent corner, He was offering spiritual commodities with transcendent worth.

There is little doubt that Jesus’ advice deliberately echoes the call of the LORD in Isaiah 55:1-2.

Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.

God will make us spiritually rich if we come as beggars. The bank account of our hearts will be full if we admit emptiness. God will clothe us in purity and righteousness, if we strip off our own. And He will open our blind eyes, correcting our vision of our condition and into His truth, if we confess our inability to see. In a word, His spiritual gifts are granted to those who repent.

Tripping

I started posting briefly about our annual trip to the Shepherds’ Conference in 2006, did so again in 2007, as well as 2008. We’ve taken a group from our church since 2003, and each year I drive (through the night) with a group of the guys from our one28 staff for life-on-life joy. Though my MacBook Air couldn’t be thinner or lighter, really, I’ll be traveling without it for the next week. That means no new posts (I didn’t work ahead), and very little email (from my iPhone). I will Twitter, but I don’t expect anyone to care about keeping track of our travels except for my family. I’ll see some of you in a couple days in SoCal, and I’ll see the rest of you when we return.