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The End of Many Books

The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology

Subtitled: A Comparison Between Seventeenth-Century Particular Baptist and Paedobaptist Federalism

Of the books I’ve finished in 2020, this is one of my favorites.

A friend gifted it to me; as thankful as I turned out to be for this gift, I can’t imagine having gone looking for it. The title/subtitle is a mouthful, then come to find out it’s a master’s thesis. You may not be interested in the topic, but you should read it anyway and you might be blessed by the end.

The subject is covenantalism, and more particularly a disagreement in the 17th century from some covenantal credo-baptists. If you’re used to hanging out with paedo-baptizing Presbyterian covenantalists, duh, hence the presenting basis for this book.

I entered and exited this reading as a credo-baptist. I entered and exited as a Dispensational Premillennialist, not withstanding the author’s flabbergasted pot-shots at those in my camp.

But I exited with a much clearer appreciation for the Covenant/covenant along with greater commitment not to ignore or downplay some covenental/federal implications, as is typical Baptistic bias.

I also exited with a clearer concern related to the origin of the debate. I have more to process about the subject, and want to read the book again. And yet it still appears to me that the primary problem for both kinds of Covenantlism (for Baptists and for Presbies) is reading backwards, (though the Baptists do a bit better). There is too much New Testament override of the Old Testament, and even parts of the Old Testament get pressed back into duty at the beginning of Genesis, even into the counsels of God. I don’t think progressive revelation works that way, and while we should be happy about the covenant-keeping God, that doesn’t need to make us covenant-happy readers finding it in all the white space between the lines.

5 of 5 stars

Categories
The End of Many Books

Before Jerusalem Fell

This is a book about when the book of Revelation was written. I started preaching through Revelation over a year ago, and it would have been just terrific to have read Gentry a long time ago, certainly before I started my Apocalyptic prep. Woe, woe, woe to me.

The title of Gentry’s book is also the answer to the question. Gentry aims all of his literary, historical, and interpretive guns at a before AD 70 date. As it turns out, his arguments misfired for me. I don’t mean that in the popularly subjective way; I can be persuaded by evidence. I found the evidence wanting. In brief:

He assumes throughout his book that Revelation is about how the church replaces Israel. This governs his observations. This makes some conclusions for him. That’s not the same as an argument.

He defends himself for dozens of pages before making his actual arguments. That’s at least true in the “third” edition I have. He begins with a Preface in which he replies to numerous critics on their numerous disagreements. It’s actually quite unenjoyable. “Me thinks thou protests too much.”

He also seizes humility in other authors as proof that he could be right. That is insufferable, if not actually unfair reading. While he admits in many places that there is evidence on both sides, he takes others making the same admission as reinforcement of his ideas.

I really do wish I had read this many years ago. I also wish I had more time to answer why I’m still unconvinced about his answers (and assumptions). But the book is too convenient, too affirming-the-consequent, and too hopeful in (possible) loopholes that (perhaps could be used to) make his point.

3 of 5 stars

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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Table of His Testimony

The ordinances given to us by the Lord are not only opportunities to obey Him they are reminders of our identity with Him. We’re buried and risen with Him in baptism, we eat with Him in communion. All of this is part of our testimony. At the Table we proclaim His death until He returns.

The Table is also a place where we remember His testimony. The bread and the wine point to His provision, already and always.

The testimony of the Almighty has been revealed from heaven. It witnesses to His holiness, and it details the (death) sentence on all who violate even one of the terms.

But this Supper is a testimony to His finished propitiation and ongoing provision. Propitiation means that Jesus covered our sins and brought us into God’s pleasure (1 John 2:2). He has dealt with our transgressions so that they no longer hang over us, they were hung with Christ on the cross (Colossians 2:13-14). The righteous took on unrighteousness so that we might share His righteousness (1 Peter 3:18). The communion elements testify to this gospel of reconciliation.

This good news has present and ongoing implications. If God has not spared His only Son for, how will He not give us all the other things we need (Romans 8:32)? We have been given all things pertaining to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). The communion elements testify to all the resources purchased for us by the Son.

You who believe have no need that needs to be met outside of God’s saving covenant in Christ; “He has commanded His covenant forever” (Psalm 111:9). This is a weekly reminder of His testimony, and it is as tasty as it is true.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

This Is Your Vote

There must be a way for an ostrich not only to not bury her head in the sand but even to enjoy the ocean. Ostriches apparently don’t hang out at the ocean, but since they are always burying their head in the sand, work with me for sake of the illustration. Think of how much she’d miss if she buried her head every time a wave came to shore. That’s what waves do. Sometimes you need to move your stuff so it doesn’t get soaked. Most of the time, once you have a little experience under your beach towel, you realize that you don’t need to freak out. You can enjoy enjoy the swells.

Like an ostrich I suppose, part of me would prefer to talk about other things, because there are other things. Yet also I don’t want to ignore this day (as in, bury my head in the sand), because this is the day the Lord has given.

Life is more than politics, and it is wearisome to be told every four years that “this is THE MOST IMPORTANT ELECTION OF OUR LIFETIMES! But for real this time! I mean it!”

Let me confess to you my default sin, as I can see it, when political seasons rush toward the shore, and then exhort you to confess your sins, whatever they may be.

My go-to sin is self-righteousness, followed closely by lazy hope.

Christians are the ones who have a standard by which to criticize, and you’d think criticism was a spiritual gift based on how clever we present our criticisms to be. Unbelievers criticize, but they have to borrow values from somewhere. Yet the same standards that Christians apply toward candidates (and legislative issues) in an election season also tell us how to behave, as in, don’t fear, and don’t judge your brothers. Don’t snuggle into your blanket throwing snark from the bleachers against how everyone on the field is doing it WRONG.

Perhaps you’ve seen the political post by John Piper last week, or any number of the responses to his post. I am very thankful to God for His use of Piper in my life, especially for sake of my affections as a disciple of Christ. And I’m not judging his convictions, but his argument is worth examining.

He is baffled at Christians who claim you can never vote for a Democrat with sin like Biden, and admonishes those Christians for supporting/promoting, or at the least ignoring, a Republican with sin like Trump. Piper points out that arrogance kills people, even if it looks different than how abortion kills people.

And yes, Nebuchadnezzar took credit for his kingdom and God judged him for it. I could vote for Trump, and if the day after his second inauguration, let’s say, God punished the President with a few years in the wilderness growing long fingernails and eating grass like a beast, I could also acknowledge that judgment as just.

But urging people not to vote for those who applaud abortion and applaud same sex marriage and applaud gender transitions for eight year-olds, all positions typically within the Democratic party, does not mean supporting all the Republican behaviors.

Piper concludes that he won’t vote for either Biden or Trump. That’s fine. But then, in a word to pastors, he asks the following:

“Have you been cultivating real Christians who see the beauty and the worth of the Son of God? Have you faithfully unfolded and heralded “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8)? Are you raising up generations of those who say with Paul, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8)?

“Have you shown them that they are “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11), and that their “citizenship is in heaven,” from which they “await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20)? Do they feel in their bones that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21)?

“Or have you neglected these greatest of all realities and repeatedly diverted their attention onto the strategies of politics? Have you inadvertently created the mindset that the greatest issue in life is saving America and its earthly benefits? Or have you shown your people that the greatest issue is exalting Christ with or without America? Have you shown them that the people who do the most good for the greatest number for the longest time (including America!) are people who have the aroma of another world with another King?

I highlight these paragraphs not only because they stood out to me, but because others have also called them “the most important section.” And while they are, in many ways, good questions, they also promote a binary assumption. Piper doesn’t like being pushed to choose between either Biden or Trump. But I don’t like being pushed to choose between caring about spiritual things or voting for the good of my family, my neighbor, and nation. Piper doesn’t like two-party assumptions, I don’t like dualism. Isn’t it possible to cultivate “real Christians who see the beauty and the worth of the Son of God,” Christians “who have the aroma of another world with another King,” who then are the very disciples who honor Christ in this world and through their stewardship of political opportunity, rather than burying their heads in (supposed heavenly) sand?

You not only get to vote for governor and president (and more), but you get to vote, so to speak, for who you want to be. Discernment is good, and yet it can be used as a cover for all sorts of smug attitudes and lazy-righteousness. Wisdom is a skill for living, not a skill just for lazily laughing at the lazy. This is your life. Don’t you want to be known for more than how quickly you can see the problem with everything?

I would like to default to doing hopefully rather than to deriding. This is my life. I want to try to be wise and do something and be joyful and trust God and love my brothers at the same time. This is my “vote.” It’s easier to appear clever with critical words rather than hopeful ones. I want to vote for being hopeful.

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, all those who practice it have good understanding” (Psalm 111:10). Let’s be those who practice it.

Categories
A Shot of Encouragement

Keep Calm and Just Conquer

The book of Revelation urges Christians to conquer. The letters to all seven churches promise great things to the ones who conqueror. We conquer by the blood of the Lamb, we conquer by not loving our lives even unto death (Revelation 12:11). This Keep Calm and Just Conquer is the last Keep Calm you’ll need. Image credit goes to Glenn Wainwright.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Soap, Water, and Anxiousness

There are at least three levels of crisis in the world currently: physical crisis, cultural crisis, and eternal crisis.

The first two levels are hand in glove, or like soap and water. The physical sicknesses and deaths of COVID-19 are real, though they have been made worse by the lathering of cultural anxiousness. The coronavirus attacks blood and internal body parts, and coronapocrisy hoards toilet paper and tattles on non-social distancers in the name of neighbor-love. Thankfully, not every hospital bed has been filled so far like was predicted, but unfortunately most of the political seats are still full of greed.

We can pray that God’s providential shake-up is being used by God to wake-up sinners to the eternal crisis. Because of sin they are separated from God, and whether they die from a virus, or they die from hunger, or they die from violence, God’s vengeance is still on them for their own unbelief and ingratitude before Him.

In the COVID-19 world is sickness, selfishness, and separation. In Christ is healing, love, and fellowship.

By faith in Christ we overcome the world. “Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world–our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 4:4-5). We are a communion of conquerors, and our communion is conquering.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

You’re Already Wet

Perhaps one time you came home in your nice work clothes and your younger kids, who were enjoying a water fight, sprayed you with the garden hose, maybe accidentally, maybe not, but you got wet enough that you got annoyed. Then one of your older kids came around the corner and threw a bucket of water on you, believing that you needed it. There’s certainly now no way you’re just going to go inside and dry out. You’re soaked. You might as well have some fun.

Now, instead of picturing your kids pitching pails of water at you, imagine that all the pails are printed with “2020.”

How should you respond? It’s a short answer.

The shortest verse in the Bible is not John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” Counting letters in the original language, there are 16 characters in three words. But the Greek text of 1 Thessalonians 5:16 includes only 14 characters in two words, typically translated, “Rejoice always” (ESV, NAS, NKJV, NIV, NRSV). The variations are not really that diverse: “Rejoice evermore” (KJV) and “Always rejoice ye” (YLT). Though it’s the shortest, it may be the second most difficult command to obey in Scripture after loving Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

This command comes in the final chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians and near the middle of 17 different exhortations. We ought not separate it from its context but we can focus on it. Rejoice. Always.

How have you done rejoicing in 2020? What percentage of proactive rejoicing have you done? Do you make rejoicing the agenda at your meal times and get-togethers? What percentage of reactive rejoicing have you done? When the next news cycle announces the newest outrage, the current fiasco, how do you process it? Do you mix rejoicing in with your burdens or reports of bad news? Paul said he was “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). Rejoicing does not eliminate heaviness (see 1 Peter 1:6), but it does flavor, lighten, and transpose that heaviness.

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Every Thumb's Width

The Dead End of (God-honoring) Gradual Development

Last Sunday I taught about economics. That interrupted a series I’ve been teaching through Revelation. As a futurist, that is, one who thinks the majority of the apocalyptic judgment is yet to occur, why would I bother admonishing the saints about building wealth of all kinds in the present age?

This is the problem that Kuyperian Dispensationalism raises, and also resolves.

If you’re already convinced about this, you’re one of maybe about twenty people on the planet (ha!). If you’re not convinced, let the following long quote and bullet points bounce around in your mental hopper.

The quote is from Kuyper himself in his book, Pro Rege: Living under Christ’s Kingship, Volume 1: The Exalted Nature of Christ’s Kingship. Kuyper was not a Dispensationalist, but I’ve been thinking about granting him that honorary status anyway. Here he explains how many things on earth will continue to get better and better and how that still won’t bring in Christ’s kingdom.

We must be certain and express clearly that the period of gradual development in which we now live will one day come to an end and pass over into the last period, which is that of a supernatural manifestation of power encompassing not only the whole world but the entire universe as well. The final victory cannot be brought about gradually, because [the path of gradual development] will end in failure. When it is clear and evident in the course of history that natural, gradual development does not and cannot lead to the final goal, then—and only then—will our King intervene in a completely supernatural manner so as to neutralize all resistance and to cause the full glory of his kingship to break through.

Before this happens, however, it must be determined and demonstrated that [this process of] gradual development was unable to lead to its triumph. One should not be able to say afterward: “If only it had pleased God to leave humanity to its own natural development, everything still would have worked out on its own.” No, the facts of history must show that humanity was incapable of this on its own. Humanity must therefore be given time. Time to absorb the blessing that Christianity brings. Time to test every method and manner of saving itself with the gospel’s help. Once it is clear after this generous passage of time that humanity failed—because its very life root has been poisoned and because the demonic power finds novel ways and means in every new development to enter humanity’s veins and spoil it from within—then and only then will Christ suddenly arrest this period of gradual development, fermentation, and influence, and intervene with his full kingly power. And [he will do] this no longer to save but to judge, and to bring about the consummation of his kingdom with supernatural power.

Pro Rege, 405-406

Many things will get better because:

  • God’s Spirit regenerates men to life, illuminates the Word for obedience, and energizes for fruitfulness, not just in eternity but on earth. This fruitfulness includes faithful dominion-taking as image-bearers of God (Genesis 1:28) and includes loving one’s neighbor and seeking their interests (Matthew 22:39 and Philippians 2:4). We love them by not only sharing the good news but also new goods.
  • God intends that our lives “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” (Titus 2:10), which is an aroma of life to those who are being saved (2 Corinthians 2:15-16). Not everyone is attracted to the gospel by God’s blessing on those who believe it, but some (including a future generation of Israelites) will be made jealous into salvation (Romans 11:11, 13-14, 25-26).

But better things themselves won’t bring about Christ’s reign on earth because:

  • God is exposing that the sinfulness of men is so sinful that many men will still resist giving glory to God for all the good He gave them (Psalm 112:10; Romans 1:18-23), and so He ordains for them to store up more wrath for themselves (Romans 2:4-5).
  • And as the Kuyper quote above, time is not the savior, only the Savior is, and soli Deo gloria.
Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

Service Options

There are a variety of acceptable approaches to serving food. Think of the different host homes for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and think of not just the many seating arrangements, but the alternatives to passing out the vittles. It could be grab-what-you-want style, at least if the group and table is small enough, or the pass-it-around-item-by-item, or maybe buffet style where you take your plate up to the common holding area. Of course, those who aren’t signed up for GWCTD will make their own supper and eat it however they want, maybe right out of the pan; save yourself from washing an extra dish.

As a church we share the communion meal every Lord’s Day. Many things are being learned here, and only some of the lessons come in the words. We do it weekly, we do it gladly, we do it at a common table. We also don’t have men pass trays row by row, but rather invite everyone to come up to the table.

Until this past May, you walked up and got your own bread and wine. The morning minster served the musicians leading us in song, but otherwise you served yourself. Having been warned about a supposedly severely contagious virus, we took special precautions and individually packaged the elements so as to share the supper without sharing germs. Since we returned inside for worship, we’ve had men pass out the elements so as to put only a couple hands near the supplies; it wasn’t surgery-room-sterile, but it was something.

Though I wasn’t able to come, I asked the elders about the donuts table last Sunday, and it gave us a reason to make a new decision. Many of you happily used your hands to get your own donuts, and good job not passing around your infectious diseases.

So we are no longer going to have men pass out the elements for sake of an ostensibly higher level of cleanliness. But we are going to have men pass out elements for sake of serving the flock. We like the liturgical statement. We like the little extra interaction. We like singing another song. It is not the only way to serve the Supper, and it doesn’t save us time, but it’s a good exchange, reminding us of the Chief Shepherd who came to serve and gave His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28).

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Lord's Day Liturgy

You Did Good

All three Synoptic Gospels include Jesus’ question of exchange. “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26; Mark 8:36; Luke 9:25). It’s an economic question, though it requires a better economic understanding than many men have demonstrated. Good economics considers more than the immediate result and more than a single issue. Wealth and power, what it means to “gain the whole world,” do not equal life.

As obvious as this is to many disciples, it is only obvious by half. There are more economics in this transaction, and it’s not in the fine print, or a footnote, nor from a false teacher. Think about the verse immediately before Jesus’ question:

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 16:25)

There are two risks, but only one results in permanent loss. Jesus says you can lose early or lose eternally, but if you lose early the result is gain.

And add to this the following verse.

For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. (Matthew 16:27)

When Jesus settles accounts, is He focused on punishment or on profit? Of course He will judge those who denied Him. But where would He find those to reward? He would find them among those who denied themselves and found life working for the Son. Those who gained will gain even more.

Deny yourself for something better, not something more miserable. Take up your cross, kill your greed, and then do all kinds of good that Jesus may say, “You did good. I told you I would see your work and share my inheritance with you as a reward” (Matthew 25:21; Colossians 3:23).