Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Machen on Christian Experience

"Christian experience is necessary to evangelism; but evangelism does not consist merely in the rehearsal of what has happened in the evangelist's own soul. We shall, indeed, be but poor witnesses for Christ if we can tell only what Christ has done for the world or for the Church and cannot tell what He has done personally for us. But we shall also be poor witnesses if we recount only the experiences of our own lives. Christian evangelism does not consist merely in a man's going about the world saying: "Look at me, what a wonderful experience I have, how happy I am, what wonderful Christian virtues I exhibit; you can all be as good and as happy as I am if you will just make a complete surrender of your wills in obedience to what I say." That is what many religious workers seem to think that evangelism is. We can preach the gospel, they tell us, by our lives, and do not need to preach it by our words. But they are wrong. Men are not saved by the exhibition of our glorious Christian virtues; they are not saved by the contagion of our experiences. We cannot be the instruments of God in saving them if we preach to them thus only ourselves. Nay, we must preach to them the Lord Jesus Christ; for it is only through the gospel which sets Him forth that they can be saved.

If you want health for your souls, and if you want to be the instruments of bringing health to others, do not turn your gaze forever within, as though you could find Christ there. Nay, turn your gaze away from your own miserable experiences, away from your own sin, to the Lord Jesus Christ as He is offered to us in the gospel. "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up." Only when we turn away from ourselves to that uplifted Savior shall we have healing for our deadly hurt.

It is the same old story, my friends-- the same old story of the natural man. Men are trying today, as they have always been trying, to save themselves-- to save themselves by their own act of surrender, by the excellence of their own faith, by mystic experiences of their own lives. But it is all in vain. Not that way is peace with God to be obtained. It is to be obtained only in the old, old way - by attention to something that was done once for all long ago, and by acceptance of the living Savior who there, once for all, brought redemption for our sin. Oh, that men would turn for salvation from their own experience to the Cross of Christ; oh, that they would turn from the phenomena of religion to the living God!

That that may be done, there is but one way. It is not found in a study of the psychology of religion; it is not found in "religious education"; it is not found in an analysis of one's own spiritual status. Oh, no. It is found only in the blessed written Word. There are the words of life. There God speaks. Let us attend to His voice. Let us above all things know the Word. Let us study it with all our minds, let us cherish it with all our hearts. Then let us try, very humbly, to bring it to the unsaved. Let us pray that God may honor not the messengers but the message, that despite our unworthiness He may make His Word upon our unworthy lips to be a message of life."

- J. Gresham Machen, The Importance of Christian Scholarship in The Defense of The Faith, 1932

Him We Proclaim

I have been working on completing Him We Proclaim by Dennis Johnson for some time now. I put it down for awhile and almost did not return to it. However, I am glad now that I did. It may seem strange that a layperson would read a book about homiletics, but Johnson's text is not just a how too book on preaching. Rather, it is mainly a hermeneutic, a way of viewing scripture. To that end, it has been very helpful in my understanding of the Bible.

Johnson speaks of two early camps on biblical interpretation. First, the Alexandrian school that erred by overemphasis on allegorism. By cutting the "text's spiritual significance loose from the constraints of the original context and demonstrable apostolic warrant in the New Testament. . .the . . .preacher is no longer the servant of the Word, subject to Scripture, but a master and manipulator of biblical words and images for his own theological purposes. . ."[p. 106] Conversely, the "[p]reachers of the School of Antioch therefore sought to limit their symbolic interpretation of Scripture to meaning for which they could demonstrate clear warrant in the text read in its original historical context, and to trace a historically oriented line of continuity between the promise implicit in the text's original sense and the fulfillment in Christ in the fullness of time." p. 107. Unfortunately, the medieval exegesis was strongly influenced by the Alexandrians, and this type of preaching would dominate for roughly a millennium." p. 108.

The following are some other notable quotes from Johnson's book:

"Pietists give priority to salvation from the control of sin by focusing their preaching on spiritual experience." p. 26

"Preaching Christ is preaching grace. This may seem obvious, but it is not obvious to all. . .Many preachers have thought they were preaching Christ when. . .they pointed to him as a stellar example to be followed. It is possible to preach about Jesus, even mention grace in the process, and yet be preaching law, calling people to reform themselves with a little help from their heavenly Friend. Such a message breeds either self-deluded complacency or self-contemptuous despair." p.81

"To focus on Jesus as example is to reduce him from sovereign Savior to ethical coach, and to transform his gospel into law". p. 15

"Sanctification can be viewed as a progressive weaning of the heart from its idols, those hollow 'authorities' whose approval we crave and from whom we seek security. Often, perhaps always, Christians' behavioral failures can be traced to misplaced trust and worship, to misgivings about the mercy and power of the triune God that tempt us to look elsewhere for acceptance and safety." p. 43

"Redemptive-historical preachers oppose the moralistic, particularly the exemplaristic, preaching of biblical historical narratives. They find it a serious misunderstanding of the purpose of biblical history to focus on the human participants in the narrative either as positive moral examples to be emulated, or as negative examples whose experiences warn against unbelief and evil." p. 50

"We need to repent not only of our sins but also our righteousness -- our efforts at self-atonement in lieu of surrender to the all-sufficient grace of Christ." p. 56

"Our idols are whatever (other than the triune God) we trust to gain "salvation," however we define it -- whatever we believe that we cannot live without." p. 57

"Apostolic preaching addresses human needs in all their diversity and depth. It does not just apply bandages to 'felt needs,' which are symptoms of secret infection. When God does the diagnosis through his whole Word, he pierces through the surface symptoms all the way to the heart, with the radical cure of God's holy truth exposing our infection in all its ugliness and applying Christ's amazing grace in all its sweetness and strength." p. 71

"Apostolic preaching is profoundly practical because it is profoundly theological. Transformed convictions transform attitudes and behavior." p. 177

"The allegorical interpreter prematurely draws too direct a line between the ancient text and his Christian hearers, without first asking the question of spiritual and covenantal significance to its ancient participants and original recipients. . .As a result, the meaning (or layers of meaning) that he symbolically derives from the text, even when it articulates doctrines related to Christ and his saving work, fails to disclose how Christ fulfills the redemptive significance of the original Old Testament event, replacing the imperfect with perfection and historial foreshadowings with reality. . ." p. 232

"The great weakness of moralistic, exemplaristic preaching is it tendency to enlist Old Testament examples in order to lay ethical obligations on hearers without showing how Christ kept covenant faithfullness where the negative examples failed, and how Christ's perfect righteousness fulfills eve the best obedience offered by the Old Testament's most positive examples" p. 234

"We are following the hermeneutic path that the apostles learned from Jesus, neither bypassing the meaning of the event in its own historical context nor ignoring the fact that the event and its immediate historical context are threads woven into a larger tapestry, the pattern of which is seen finally and fully in Jesus." p. 236-37

"Instead of motivating obedience by offering God's favor as contingent on human performance, the apostles spoke for a God who had begun the process of new creation by extending unmerited mercy and who thereby evokes from renewed people a grateful love and eager desire to obey" p. 265

"Israelite children must hear repeatedly the logic of grace-evoked obedience, which comes to its fullest fruition in the gospel of Christ. The typical structure of several Pauline epistles makes this clear: the indicative of the glorious redemptive work of Jesus. . .precedes, motivates, and empowers the imperatives that define the response of the redeemed." p. 299

"Scripture repeatedly identifies forgetfulness as a lethal spiritual danger." p. 357

Monday, July 13, 2009

"Could it be - Satan!"

I recently rented the movie "Ghost Town" which came out in 2008. I thought the following was an interesting exchange by the two primary characters:

FRANK: “Hey, when the devil shows up, you think he’s gonna have little red horns and carry a pitchfork? No, he’s gonna work for Amnesty international, and he’s gonna give all of his money to the homeless.”

DR. PINCUS: “Well, if he did all that, wouldn’t he lose the title ‘the devil’?”

Hmmm. . .I think he would still be the devil. Of course, Dr. Pincus's answer is revealing. It reflects the world's minimalist view of goodness - a standard far below holiness. If he is a "good person," he CAN be the devil.

"the LORD saves not with sword and spear. . ."

"The weapons of this warfare must not be carnal. . .The great apostles would not set upon the work of the ministry until they were 'endued with power from on high'. . .The Spirit will only work with his own tools." Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2005, p. 34.

Though we often try, we can not win the war by wielding weapons of our own design. While they may seemingly defend against our foe for a time, they grow dull quickly and fail us. We must pick up those armaments forged by God's almighty hand - the Word, sacraments (baptism and the Lord's Supper), and prayer. Westminster Shorter Catechism - #88. Then, and only then, will the victory be the LORD's.

Monday, June 15, 2009

In my weakness. . .

"Far too often our concern with sin arises from how it makes us feel. Sinful habits, sometimes called 'besetting sins,' cause us to feel defeated, and we don't like to be defeated in anything, whether it's in a game of Ping-Pong or in our struggle with sin. . .sinful habits make us feel guilty and defeated." Jerry Bridges - The Discipline of Grace, NavPress, 2006, p. 149.

Just when I think my motivations are pure, I find myself once again caught by my own pride. How often am I more embarrassed about my weaknesses to a particular sin(s) and less about my insult to Christ's perfect work?


Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Colquhoun on Law and Gospel

"'The law and the gospel are the principal parts of divine revelation; or rather they are the center, sum, and substance of all the other parts of it. Every passage of sacred Scripture is either law or gospel, or is capable of being referred either to the one or to the other . . . If then a man cannot distinguish aright between the law and the gospel, he cannot rightly understand so much as a single article of divine truth. If he does not have spiritual and just apprehensions of the holy law, he cannot have spiritual and transforming discoveries of the glorious gospel; and, on the other hand, if his view of the gospel is erroneous, his notions of the law cannot be right.'" --John Colquhoun


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Kingdom Confusion

Some of you may have heard of U. S. House Resolution 397 which designates the first week in May as “American Spiritual Heritage Week.” You can learn more about it here. I would propose a somewhat different resolution that might read as follows:

WHEREAS, Christians, just as all other Americans of religious or irreligious persuasions, shall actively participate in government as good citizens;

WHEREAS, although Christians shall be good citizens, they shall stop confusing the kingdom of God with the kingdom of man;

WHEREAS, Christians shall put down the sword and trust only in the power of the Gospel, and His sovereign hand, to bring about the fullness of His kingdom in His time;

I could go on, but I think you get the picture.