Monthly Archives: September 2012

We Serve a Great and Mighty God!

 Bless our God, O peoples; let the sound of his praise be heard,who has kept our soul among the living and has not let our feet slip. (Psalm 66:8-9 ESV)

Yesterday afternoon (4:00 PM), at the Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church, Washington, DC, my pastor, Rev. Gregory Sims, preached a message entitled, “We Serve a Great and Mighty God,” from Psalm 66:8-9. Here is a summary of some of the significant items in the sermon:

1. People crave attention, which is especially notable among sports figures and entertainment personalities. The latter group reveals this in their concert call-and-response, “What’s my name?” Such glory seeking, unfortunately, has infiltrated houses of worship. However, God is the one person who always should be the center of everyone’s attention—who is always worthy of praise.

2. Complaining about our troubles could provide opportunities to limit one’s praise. The amount of trouble we perceive ourselves to have is a matter of perspective. Pastor illustrated this by speaking of a time when he had a terrible pain in his foot while walking through a mall, but as he was leaving the mall he passed by a U.S. veteran who was an amputee and also had obvious discomforts in his remaining leg. At this point, Pastor said that his perspective on his pain changed and he felt very little pain. (He gave a second illustration too long for me to summarize.)

3. “If Israel could call on the [people] to praise the Lord, certainly, having been grafted into [the plan of God], the saints should have no problem praising the mighty God we serve.”

4. Point #1: My praise [of the great and mighty God] should be personal (v. 8a). “Praise occurs when we are saturated with humility. We should consider the majesty of God all [around] us [like the moon above].” Also, “If the nations are but a drop in the bucket, where does that leave you and I?”

5. Point #2: My praise ought to be public (v. 8b). “Some people never [intend to] come to church, so we need to publish our praise [in the world].”

6. Point #3: My praise ought to have purpose (v. 9). He delineated two purposes: My praise ought to exalt the Lord’s preservation, and my praise ought to exalt the Lord’s protection. “Some times we have caused our own pain. How refreshing it is for the Lord to [yet] restore our souls.”

Within the message, Pastor Sims inserted lines from several musical pieces that exalt the greatness of the Lord. He introduced the message with the first stanza and the refrain from, “How Great Thou Art.” He began the first main point of the exposition with the first stanza and refrain of, “Blessed Assurance,” emphasizing the personal nature of the assurance expressed in the hymn: “This is my story.” Before finishing the couplet of v. 8a, he inserted the first stanza and the refrain from, “Oh, How I Love Jesus.” While exalting the Lord for preserving us, he drew from William Cowper’s, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” (1774), and James Cleveland’s, “Can’t Nobody Do Me Like Jesus” (1991).

Also, Pastor Sims drew from verses from several additional psalms. As fast as I could remember and write, I caught verses from Psalms 8, 103, 121, 124. However, I think I missed verses from at least three other psalms.

Because I teach homiletics, I try to be aware of the means by which preachers get their audiences to listen to their messages. Over the last several years, I have become more appreciative of how African American preaching, in the traditional cultural sense, in terms of style, follows closely Aristotle’s dictates on rhetoric as a whole. Aristotle’s teaching amounts to manipulation, not simply good audience analysis and anthropological observations. However, as Bryan Chapell notes in Christ-Centered Preaching, Biblical preaching must consider logos (content), pathos (passion) and ethos (character) (p. 34). So the God-fearing preacher must exercise caution in his use of words to manipulate the minds and hearts of his hearers, only stirring our affections toward God (as John Piper is fond of saying).

From Pastor Sims every Sunday I get this God-exalting manipulation of heart and mind toward the glory of Christ, his work in the plan of God for us, and the implications for our daily living in the world. I saw it on full display last evening as Pastor reminded us – in a string of things the Lord has done for us in redemption that was far too long and moving for me to write (!) – that God does everything good for us that we experience. Thus, He is great and mighty, and worthy of all our praise.

It has been many years since I have enjoyed the singing of a mass choir. Yesterday, hearing New Canaan Baptist Church’s mass choir exalt Christ in song also brought great joy to my soul.

Evangelism: Self-Benefit as a Catalyst

Kindly, christianity.com has posted my article, “Evangelism: Self-Benefit as a Catalyst.”

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Sharing one’s faith often is the mature believer’s Achilles’ heel. As we grow in grace in all other areas of the faith, we tend to lag behind in preaching the Gospel to unbelievers in our workplaces and neighborhoods. Excuses for our lack of obedience in this area abound.

While we see the immediate benefits that sharing our faith has toward unbelievers, we do not see the immediate benefits that sharing our faith has toward ourselves. Yet the benefits toward our own walks with the Lord should move us to share. Here are five benefits:

Sharing Expands Your Study of the Bible and Theology

As you share your faith with unbelievers, especially those less familiar with Christian culture and jargon, they are likely to raise questions about the Christian faith. In particular, they are likely to raise questions related to evil in the world or current events. But we do not always have the answers. So then we have to go back to the Scriptures, pull out commentaries, apologetics books, and systematic theologies so that we can be better equipped for answers to future questions. “Why is it that you must believe in theism in order to be morally good when many atheists seem to be upright citizens?” “Is Cain’s wife a problem for the trustworthiness of Scripture?” You will need to study in order to answer these questions and give reason for your hope (1 Pet. 3:15). In the process of study, your own knowledge of Scripture and theology will deepen.

Sharing Encourages You to deepen in Prayer

Regularly sharing your faith quickly will lead you to people who are hostile or simply will not listen to reason. Unfortunately, when we run into such people, we might be tempted to “win” an argument rather than explain the Gospel. This is prideful response—a one that focuses on oneself and the desire to be victorious rather than defeated. In effect, we act as if the Lord would be glorified only by our power to convince another. We fall into this self-centered response due to a lack of dependency on the Spirit (cf. Mk. 14:38). In contrast, the Spirit’s power comes through prayer (Acts 4:31).

Sharing Fosters Humility When We Realize our Weakness to Rescue a Soul

Being full of the Spirit through prayer does not guarantee the conversion of the one with whom we are sharing. Even our clearest presentations of the Gospel with the most loving approaches toward the unbeliever cannot make someone respond to the truth about Christ. A heart that is blind to God’s glory, corrupt in its thinking about God, hateful toward its creator, and completely unregenerate is not overcome by the craftiness or perfection of our speaking. Only the power of Christ opens lost eyes to salvation in Christ; it is a work of divine grace and mercy, not of human skill.

For someone burdened for the souls of the lost, this can be frustrating. However, it should be humbling, for our lack of ability to convert a soul shows that we are yet helpless. Being helpless, we are unable to view ourselves as significant, important, or powerful. Instead, we are insignificant, unimportant, and weak. With this view of ourselves, we are prepared to receive great grace, “for God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Ja. 4:6).

Moreover, Christ told his disciples that they would reap [souls] for “harvest” (salvation) where others had sown [the Gospel] (Jn. 4:38). When we witness someone’s eyes open to Christ as a result of our sharing the Gospel, even then it is because of work on the part of God through others. We, weak as we are to save a soul, only have been vessels of the Gospel.

Sharing Sensitivity to Lostness of World—to the Experiences of Others

Sharing my faith is a great vaccine against ministering to others in a manner that is overly influenced by my level of social mobility, healthy family background, or measure of grace given to my marriage. While sharing my faith, I run into people who have given up on “church” and “religion” because “life” has dealt them a bad hand – a hand with which I often have no personal experience. As the people on the other end of my sharing of the Gospel relate to me stories of childhood molestation, abandonment by a parent or spouse, their family’s fall into poverty at the death of the breadwinner, or of growing up fatherless, I am moved to pity for them. However, if I stay in my isolated and protected world of a strong Christian church, and a faithful and loving family, I will miss hearing of the ravages of sin in the lives of others. By sharing the Gospel I stay sensitive to the various forms and consequences of sin in the lives of people.

Sharing Makes You Faithful to the Great Commission—to Giving Gospel to the lost

The most obvious benefit to ourselves is that we are obedient to the Great Commission (Mt. 28:19-20), and thus to the Lord. This comes with the added benefit of the promised presence of God himself: “I will be with you always, even until the end of the age.”

Share your faith with others. You will bless them with the offer of the Lord’s love, grace, mercy, joy, and peace through the preaching of the Gospel. In doing so, the sharing will bless you too.
Eric C. Redmond is Executive Pastoral Assistant and Bible Professor in Residence at New Canaan Baptist Church in Washington, DC Follow Eric at his blog, A Man from Issachar, and on Twitter @EricCRedmond.

A Necessary Tweak of Greg’s Beale Thoughts on Exegesis of the Old Testament

Recently WTSBOOKS interviewed Dr. Greg Beale in conjunction with the release of Beale’s Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. The interview asks Dr. Beale a few questions related to the interpretation of the text.

I appreciate Dr. Greg Beale’s grounding of interpretation in the inspiration of the words of the writers of Scripture. However, he conflates two ideas that should remain separate in order for us to interpret the text faithfully.

1.  Divine Inspiration – by which Beale means revelation, for he is speaking of the broadening of what the author and the Lord are saying through the speaker – and understanding the interpretation of what has been spoken are vastly different concepts. Even knowing that one is speaking, “Thus saith the Lord,” would not necessarily mean that the author would have known his words would go beyond the immediate historical context. One can see this if one appeals to a text like the death of the man of God in 1 Kings 13 rather than a more obviously prophetic passage like the construction of the Tabernacle Exodus 25. The passage on the man of God warned the generation reading 1 and 2 Kings of the authority of the word of the Lord even in the life of one called by God. One does not immediately think that this passage typifies Jesus always doing his Father’s will (cf. Jn. 8:28; 12:49; 14:10) and yet being brought to death by the word of the Lord (Jn. 17:4; cf. Isa. 53:10), does he? Yet with the Tabernacle passage, one has a textual clue that there is more to the instructions than simply earthly blueprints because there is a “pattern” involved (Ex 25:9, 40; cf. Heb. 8:5; 9:23; 10:1).

2.  “Context” for spoken words is different than for written words. That is, the words on a page are limited by all of the words around them. The additional, unexpressed mental thoughts of the author that were not communicated in the words do not matter to our task as exegetes, for as readers we have no access to them. We only have access to what is written on the page. If Beale, by intention, means more than “the author’s central idea in the narrow historical context and additional later revelation unknown but suspected by the author,” then I cannot know this, for this is all Beale’s words reveal to the readers of the interview. If he also means by intention, “the author’s effectual hope in the life of the believer and the purposes for which he wrote in response to a historical catalyst,” I cannot know this for it does not come through in the interview. It would be unfair (and illogical) to say that I missed Beale’s “central idea expressed in the text” because I missed Beale’s “effectual hope for the believer.” When E. D. Hirsch spoke of author’s intention, he meant “the author’s central idea in the narrow historical context as able to be discerned by willed verbal meaning and literary clues.” But Beale speaks of a different intention when he says “larger than even he understood,” for he is then speaking of “additional later revelation unknown but suspected on the basis of inspiration.” The two are not the same and should not be confused even though they both fly under a banner of “intention.”

3.  In his illustration of enjoying Bach, the listening student, when asked, “Does he like other composers like Vivaldi,” would have been correct to say, “I do not know, for Dr. Beale did not say anything about other composers, neither did he speak of enjoying classic compositions as a whole or of other composers while speaking of enjoying Bach.” The student has no clues in the context to indicate that Beale’s verbal meaning goes beyond “Bach” to “other composers.” No one could fault the student for not knowing Beale’s unexpressed idea(s).  However, imagine if the student were reading a paragraph by Dr. Beale that said, “Summer is great! I get uninterrupted time to enjoy my downloads of the Westminster Brass, London Symphony Orchestra, and Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra playing the great masters of history. Ah, there’s nothing I enjoy more in the summer than sitting on the patio, sipping lemonade, and listening to Bach. Listening to the grand symphonies of the Western musical canon rescues my mind from the torture of having to hear Carl Trueman play his rock music around the WTS campus.” Then if someone asked, “Does Dr. Beale also like Vivaldi, or only Bach,” the student could have said, “I suspect he does like Vivaldi, for he likes Bach and ‘the great masters.’” If Beale does not express his intention, it cannot be interpreted, even if it is in his head. He wants the intention in his head to be something that we access in the process of exegesis. However, we cannot because exegesis focuses on ideas expressed (which are limited by the words around them), not unexpressed mental ruminations (which could go on forever). The only ideas upon which we can do exegesis are those expressed by the words in the text, not unexpressed ideas. The resurrection of Christ in Psalm 16 is an expressed idea because “not see corruption” is something that could not refer to David (as Peter notes in Acts 2:29-31, of which Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. provides good exegesis). However, the equal access of Gentiles and Jews as fellow heirs in Christ is not an expressed idea in the Old Testament (Eph. 3:6). It cannot be gained by exegesis, even though it is the Lord’s express purpose (intention) throughout Old Testament Redemptive History to include the Gentiles in redemption with the Jews as one new man.

In the full interview, WTSBOOKS asks Beale,

You express your own position as situated “on the side of those who affirm that the NT uses the OT in line with the original contextual meaning.” (Handbook, p. 13). What do you mean when you speak of “original contextual meaning”? How does this differ—if at all—from strict adherence to a grammatical-historical approach?

If Beale’s answer to the interview questions means something other than, “One’s exegesis of the Old Testament text must factor in that – as the Old Testament authors understood – the spoken/written revelation, as divinely inspired, has thicker intentions that go beyond narrow historical context of the original speaking author, as illustrated by a modern example related to listening to ‘Bach,’” he did not adequately express that as his intended meaning so as to give us access to it.

It is not that intentions are “thicker” and need to be unpacked. Instead, the definitions of “intention” are many, and they need to be expressed. I would recommend Elliott E. Johnson’s Expository Hermeneutics for more on how the written paragraph is the smallest context of interpretation for willed verbal meaning in a text.

Learning to Live and Read the Word of God at the Same Time

This past Sunday, Rev. Gregory M. Sims, Pastor of New Canaan Baptist Church – my pastor – preached two great messages from Gal. 5:22-23 (at 11:00 AM) and Gal. 5:16-18 (at 7:30 AM). In the second message, entitled, “Flowing in Fruitfulness, Part 5: Patience, Kindness, and Goodness,” he made three points related to the definitions of “patience,” “kindness,” and “goodness.” Other important points in the message included these:

  1. “Patience is available to every believer at any moment and in any situation.”
  2. “God develops patience in us;” (he made a an appeal to Ja. 1:2-3 and contrasted peirasmois with hupomonen).
  3. “Kindness is benevolence in action and moral goodness.”
  4. On kindness: “I am blessed today because someone has been kind to me.”
  5. “Goodness is uprightness of heart… it often is difficult to display when [people] are not good to us.”

I was particularly blessed by his typological use of four Old Testament passages to illustrate the failure or obedience of saints with respect to these products of the Spirit:

  1. On patience, he cited Saul’s impatience with Samuel’s coming when the Philistines threatened the Israelites (1 Samuel 13). Being patient would have been the difference between sure victory over the Philistines (1 Sam. 13:13-14) rather than oppression (1 Sam. 13:17-23).
  2. On kindness, he used the example of David’s kindness toward Mephibosheth – that he looked to be kind to his enemy’s offspring, provided in abundance for one crippled, and that his place at David’s table would be secure (2 Samuel 9). In the same way Christ, in the kindness of God (cf. Ex. 34:6), has rescued his enemies from God’s wrath [in justification] (Rom. 5:1, 6-11), provided abundantly for his own [in sanctification] (Mt. 6:25-34; 2 Pet 1:3-4), and made our hope secure [in glorification] so that we are assured to eat at his table throughout all eternity (Lk. 13:29; 14:15; 22:15-17, 30; Heb. 6:18-19; 1 Pet. 1:3, 13)
  3. On goodness, he demonstrated it to be characteristic of God by appealing to Job’s encounters with Satan (Job 1-2)—that the Lord would not allow Satan to take Job’s life even though he granted him authority to destroy Job’s family, goods, and body. Thus, goodness exists alongside of evil and suffering in God’s plan for his own. Similarly, David demonstrated goodness toward Saul when he had opportunity to kill him (1 Sam. 24:4; 1 Sam. 26:12).

Thus, through the one message, Pastor Sims both exhorted us to walking with the Spirit, and he showed us how to read the Old Testament. I am enjoying messages like this each week; I am thankful for my pastor’s labor in the word of God.

Christian Apologetics Book Endorsed by an Atheist?

I am considering small apologetics and basic theology books that I could use to help further ground young adults in their Christian faith. I ran across Erik Thoennes’, Life’s Biggest Questions, and I noticed that it is endorsed by an atheist. I think this means the book, at a minimum, makes credible arguments. I read the first three chapters online and the book seems to be written in a very readable style. However, I would like thoughts about the book from anyone else who as read the book.

Also, I need opinions on other possible texts that I could use for grounding college-aged and post-college aged church learners in the truth. Please let me know if you have suggestions (and why you make the suggestions). Post them in the comments, on my Facebook and Google+ pages, and tweet them to me. I am not looking for anything like Calvin’s Institutes or commentaries on the Westminster Confession – at least not yet.  Thank you!

Beale’s Handbook on NT Use of the OT

Westminster Bookstore has Greg Beale’s, Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Exegesis and Interpretation, on sale 40% off at the great price of $10.79. Those familiar with Beale’s works in the related Commentary (with D. A. Carson), Biblical Theology, and Right Doctrines, will welcome the Handbook.

From the Publisher:
This concise guide by a leading New Testament scholar helps readers understand how to better study the multitude of Old Testament references in the New Testament. G. K. Beale, coeditor of the bestselling Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, focuses on the “how to” of interpreting the New Testament use of the Old Testament, providing students and pastors with many of the insights and categories necessary for them to do their own exegesis. Brief enough to be accessible yet thorough enough to be useful, this handbook will be a trusted guide for all students of the Bible.
Contents
Introduction
1. Challenges to Interpreting the Use of the Old Testament in the New
2. Seeing the Old Testament in the New: Definitions of Quotations and Allusions and Criteria for Discerning Them
3. An Approach to Interpreting the Old Testament in the New
4. Primary Ways the New Testament Uses the Old Testament
5. Hermeneutical and Theological Presuppositions of the New Testament Writers
6. The Relevance of Jewish Backgrounds for the Study of the Old Testament in the New: A Survey of the Sources
7. A Case Study Illustrating the Methodology of This Book