Monday, December 30, 2013

J. C. Ryle: "Remember Lot's wife"

Note:  I preached Sunday morning on Luke 17:20-37 with focus on v. 32:  "Remember Lots' wife."  I closed with some quotations from R. C. Ryle:
In J. C. Ryle’s classic book Holiness, one of the chapters is from a sermon Ryle preached on Luke 17:32 titled, “A woman to be remembered.”
In his sermon, Ryle noted (1) that Lot’s wife was a woman who had many spiritual privileges, but she had no grace; (2) that her sin was disobedience; and (3) that her judgment was fearful.
At one point in that last section, Ryle said this:
If you desire to be a healthy Christian, consider often what your own end will be.  Will it be happiness, or will it be misery?  Will it be the death of righteousness, or will it be a death without hope, like that of Lot’s wife?  You cannot live always; there must be an end one day.  The last sermon will one day be heard; the last prayer will one day be prayed; the last chapter in the Bible will one day be read; meaning, wishing, hoping, intending, resolving, doubting, hesitating—all will at length be over.  You will have to leave this world and to stand before a holy God.  Oh, that you would be wise!  Oh that you would consider your latter end! (p. 173).
He closes:
Oh, may these solemn words of our Lord Jesus Christ be deeply graven on all our hearts!  May they awaken within us when we feel sleepy, revive us when we feel dead, sharpen us when we feel dull, warm us when we feel cold!  May they prove a spur to quicken us when we are falling back, and a bridle to check us when we are turning aside!  May they be a shield to defend us when Satan casts a subtle temptation at our heart, and a sword to fight with, when he says, boldly, “Give up Christ, come back to the world, and follow me!”  Oh, may we say, in such hours of trial, “Soul, remember the Savior’s warning!  Soul, soul, hast thou forgotten his words?  Soul, soul remember Lot’s wife!” (pp. 175-176).    

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Vision (12/19/13): We have done our duty

“So, likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants:  we have done that which was our duty to do” (Luke 17:10).

Note:  The devotion below comes from notes from the introduction and conclusion of last Sunday’s sermon on Luke 17:1-10:

Do you serve Christ because you have to or because you want to?  Is it wrong to do spiritual things simply out of duty?  Does our obedience and service to Christ always flow naturally and spontaneously from our love for him?  Or does it sometimes require disciplined obedience simply to keep our commitment and obligations to Christ?  How many times have you heard that doing things out of duty made faith mechanical and threadbare?  What Jesus teaches may surprise you.

Here is the rather unpleasant truth: Much of living the Christian life is a matter of doing our duty.  It is simply a matter of obeying Christ’s commands.

Why do we love one another?  Because our master told us so.

Why do we not forsake the assembly of ourselves?  Because our master told us so.

Why do wives submit to husbands and husbands love wives?  Because our master told us so.

Why do children obey parent and fathers not exasperate their children?  Because our master told us so. 

And this means among other things:

That we beware of doing anything that would result in a stumbling block being placed in the path of a little one (see Luke 17:1-2).  Because our master told us so.

That we be ready to be overlook inconsequential differences with brethren and to confront more serious matters in private and godly ways that seek repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation rather than retribution or punishment (see Luke 17:3-4).  Even seven times a day.  Because our master told us so.

Can we do so on our own strength?  No.  We must ask the Lord as the apostles did, “Lord, Increase our faith” (Luke 17:5).

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Philip Jenkins on the Ending of Mark

I’ve been reading Philip Jenkins’ Hidden Gospels:  How the Search for Jesus Lost Its Way (Oxford University Press, 2001) and enjoying it’s excellent critique of current interest in Gnostic, non-canonical gospels and their reinterpretation of the historical Jesus and early Christianity.

Along the way Jenkins offers these comments on the modern scholarly view that Mark’s Gospel originally ended at Mark 16:8.  Though Jenkins does not affirm Mark 16:9-20 as the original ending and gives credence to the notion that the original ending was lost (not to mention his acceptance of the Markan priority theory), he nonetheless rightly points out the problems with acceptance of ending Mark’s Gospels at 16:8, so much in vogue with some postmoderns and even embraced by some evangelical scholars, like Dan Wallace, and pastors, like John MacArthur.  Here’s the excerpt:

…though the idea is now commonly accepted, the notion that Mark originally intended his story to end with the women fleeing is just untenable.  In literary terms, a carefully crafted work like Mark could not have ended on such a note, however, appealing the idea seems to postmodern readers.  Also, this interpretation would mean that the whole text ends with a Greek grammatical form called an enclitic which is inappropriate for the ending of a paragraph, never mind a whole book.  In English it would be roughly equivalent to ending a book in mid-sentence:  we may be happy to do such a thing today, but the idea would have been unthinkable for most previous generations.  Mark surely did not mean to end his book in this curtailed way, although this was the form in which the text became available to Matthew and Luke.  We have no way of knowing what happened in the interim; the author may have been unable to complete the work, or perhaps the original ending was lost in a time of persecution of neglect.  But whatever the reason, it is remarkable to see how many scholars accept that the impossibly abrupt ending represents the author’s intent.  Some apparently do so from an ideological motivation, namely, to show that the Resurrection is a late accretion to proto-Christian thought (p. 80).

Here also are some related items on Mark’s ending:  Word Magazine on MacArthur’s sermon on Mark’s ending; two messages by me on Mark’s ending (part one; part two; part three).

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Conference on "Pericope Adulterae" coming in April 2014

I just finished reading Rethinking the Synoptic Problem (Baker Academic, 2001), edited by David Alan Black and David R. Beck.  This book came from presentations given at a 2000 symposium at Southeastern Baptist Seminary on the synoptic problem.  I've also previously reviewed the Black edited Perspectives on the Ending of Mark (Broadman & Holman, 2008) which came from a 2007 seminar at Southeastern on Mark 16:9-20.  I was glad, therefore, to hear that Southeastern will be hosting another symposium (no doubt organized by David Alan Black) in 2014, this time addressing another key text critical issue:  the pericope adulterae (John 7:53--8:11).  Here's a description from the conference webpage:
Scholars have long disagreed about the originality of the text of John 7:53-8:11, which contains the story of the woman caught in adultery. Traditionally known as the Pericope Adulterae, this text has concerned various textual critics as to whether it should be included in the canon of Scripture. Furthermore, Bible translators have debated how to include it in their translations, and pastors have debated whether they should preach it as inspired Scripture. Please join us as we explore these issues with some of the leading scholars in this area.
Is the woman caught in adultery passage:
  • Original to John's Gospel? Or is it a later interpolation?
  • Should it be proclaimed or proscribed?
These questions will be discussed at Pericope Adulterae.
Join us on April 25 - 26, 2014
The cost will be $30 per person & $20 for students.
Speakers include:
Dr. David Alan Black; Dr. M.O. Owens Jr. Chair of New Testament Studies Professor of New Testament & Greek at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Dr. Chris Keith; Professor of New Testament & Early Christianity Director of the Centre for the Social-Scientific Study of the Bible at St. Mary’s University College in Twickenham, London
Dr. Jennifer Knust; Associate Professor of New Testament & Christian Origins School of Theology & the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, Boston University
Dr. John David Punch; Senior Pastor of City Church Denver
Dr. Maurice Robinson; Senior Professor of New Testament & Greek at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Dr. Tommy Wasserman; Academic Dean & Lecturer in New Testament at the Örebro School of Theology in Sweden

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Vision (12.12.13): Confidence in God's Appointed Means

It was one of those “man bites dog” news links on the Drudge Report website that I just couldn’t pass up.  It enticed with something like, “Pastor tames wild horse while preaching sermon.”  The link sent me to this video on where, in fact, you can watch Pastor Lawrence Bishop II of Solid Rock Church in Monroe, Ohio actually tame a wild horse within a ring set up in the center of the church’s sanctuary (more likely, “worship center”).  Pastor Bishop (great name) is also apparently a former rodeo professional, and the “sermon” was the seventh and climactic in his “Conquer the Beast” series.

The stunt reminded me of the time a few years back when I attended the Pastors’ Conference at the annual Southern Baptist Convention, held in Greensboro, North Carolina (back when I was still a Southern Baptist).  At that meeting one of the keynote messages was preached by a pastor from Texas who stood at center stage while daredevils jumped over him on motorcycles (I kid you not!).  At the sermon’s close we were encouraged to follow this model in order to draw a crowd and grow our churches.

Is there anything wrong with sermons where wild horses are tamed?  Or where motorcycles scream through hoops of fire over the preacher?  Is this what Paul was talking about when he said, “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Cor 9:22)?

In fact, I would say this is not at all what Paul was talking about.  Rather than demonstrating innovation or zeal for souls, it shows a fundamental lack of confidence in the simplicity of preaching as the God-ordained “converting ordinance” (as the Puritans called it).  It is an attempt to improve on the God-called minister standing forth in the midst of the gathering of the Lord’s people with an open Bible to preach the gospel.  Paul said, “it pleased God by the foolishness of the message preached to save them that believe” and “we preach Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 1:21, 23).

OK, we might not be tempted to put up a horse ring or build a motorcycle ramp, but we may have our own subtle expressions of lack of confidence in divinely ordained means.  Before the wild horses and motorcycles there were other attempts to spice things up and hold the interest of the audience whether Christian puppet shows, ventriloquists, organs, handbell choirs, praise bands, video clips, etc.  These more recent expressions just prove how fleshly craving for entertainment must always push the envelope for the next spiritual “high.”

May the Lord keep us from this temptation and give us confidence in his appointed means for converting sinners and edifying the saints.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Aslan just won't go away...

No, not that Aslan....

A friend sent me an email this evening that began, "Aslan just won't go away" along with this link to an article from The Hollywood Reporter.  I thought it was going to be an article about a new Narnia movie.  Instead, it's about Reza Aslan's Zealot book being made into a movie. I told my friend that I'm at least impressed by Aslan's tireless self-promotion, and it appears that there's a ready market in Hollywood for alternative views of Jesus (not to mention the financial angle--you know how big the History Channel's Bible miniseries was!). Maybe the Word Magazines (parts one, two, three, and four) I did on Aslan's promotional interviews for the book will have an extended purpose.


Friday, December 06, 2013

De Wette's 16 page dissertation

Image:  W. M. L. De Wette (1780-1849)
 I’ve been reading Mark S. Gignilliat’s A Brief History of Old Testament Criticism:  From Benedict Spinoza to Brevard Childs (Zondervan, 2012).  As the title indicates, the book offers a survey of modern historical-critical approaches to the OT by surveying the contributions of seven key scholars (Spinoza, De Wette, Wellhausen, Gunkel, Von Rad, Albright, and Childs).

I found one note on De Wette (1780-1849) to be interesting.  His 1804 doctoral dissertation from the University of Jenna was 16 pages in length!  By contrast my 2002 NT dissertation was 341 pages.  De Wette’s dissertation title was A Critical-Exegetical Dissertation by which Deuteronomy, Different from the Earlier Books of the Pentateuch, Is Shown to Be the Work of a Later Author.    Gignilliat observes:  “The work was measured by its quality, however, not by its length” (p. 44).  He points out that several ideas in the dissertation became widely accepted in subsequent OT scholarship , such as a later dating for Deuteronomy than the rest of the Pentateuch and the idea that the law book discovered in the days of Josiah c. 622 BC was the book of Deuteronomy (neither of which I am personally endorsing).

Maybe the lesson of the 16 page dissertation is that we might say more with less. 

Thursday, December 05, 2013

The Vision (12.5.13): Near Death Experiences and the Sufficiency of Scripture


Note:  The devotion below is taken from the introduction and conclusion from last Sunday’s sermon on the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).

“And Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (Luke 16:29).

Many hold that the most interesting thing about the account of the Rich Man and Lazarus is the details it provides about life after death.  What happens to the wicked and what happens to the righteous immediately after death?

Indeed the question of what happens after death is a popular topic that fuels much speculation in our day.  Examples:

In 2004 Don Piper, a Baptist minister, published a book titled 90 Minutes in Heaven:  A True Story of Life and Death (Revell), which supposedly catalogued his experience of dying and going to heaven after an automobile accident, until another minister prayed for him and his life was restored. 

At the other end of the spectrum, In 2006 there appeared a book by a charismatic layman named Bill Wiese titled 23 minutes in Hell:  One man’s story of what he saw, heard, and felt in that place of torment (Charisma), which records his supposed experience of being transported to hell for 23 minutes late one evening.

Then, in 2010 Todd Burpo a Wesleyan Pastor from Nebraska published a book titled, Heaven is for Real:  A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back (Thomas Nelson), which tells of how his 4 year old son supposedly died during surgery, visited heaven, and then returned to tell the story.

And even more recently, in 2012 a physician named Eben Alexander wrote Proof of Heaven:  A Neurosurgeon's Journey Into the Afterlife (Simon and Schuster), in which he described his experience in a seven day coma in which he claimed to have traveled to “the deepest realms of super-physical existence” and where he met and talked with “the divine source of the universe itself.”

Is there any basis for giving credence to such accounts?  Jesus’ account of the Rich Man and Lazarus addresses and I think answers that question in the negative.

At the end of the passage, we find that the real focus and the most valuable thing to be gained from the Rich Man and Lazarus, however, is not its teaching about the afterlife but what it has to say about the doctrine of Scripture, particularly the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture.

This account does indeed address and inform the Christian view of the afterlife:

It tells us that death is not the end of our existence, but only the beginning.  At death, our souls are either immediately in the presence of God awaiting the final resurrection and permanent assignment to heaven (like Lazarus), or they are in torment awaiting that same final resurrection and permanent assignment to hell (like the Rich Man).  There are no second chances after death. There is no moving from one realm to another.

And:  There is no moving from either place back to the land of the living.  What does this say about all the books mentioned above?   They are anti-scriptural.  They deny our Lord’s own teaching.  Thus, they are false teaching.  Their major flaw is that they teach one should believe in the reality of heaven and hell due to their extra-biblical witness, coming from their alleged personal experience.  But this is precisely where they are wrong-headed.  The reason to believe in heaven and hell (or anything else of spiritual importance) is not because of the experience of a person (minister, child, or physician) but because of the testimony of the Word of God.

Is scripture sufficient for you?  Or do you crave something else, something more?  If you do, your attitude is like that of the rich man.  You have the Scriptures, listen to them!  

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Vision (11.29.13): Thanksgiving

Emily Dickenson’s poem “Thanksgiving Day” begins with this stanza:

                                         One day is there of the series
                                                       Termed Thanksgiving day,
                                          Celebrated part at table,
                                                       Part in memory.
The Psalms of the Old Testament were both the hymn book and the prayer book of the Old Testament church.  There are various genres or types of psalms in this collection of 150 songs.  There are what scholars call “psalms of remembrance” in which the inspired author provides a celebratory record of God’s past deeds.  Psalm 136 is an example of this with its constant refrain, “for his mercy endureth for ever.”
There are also “psalms of thanksgiving” in which the author recalls a time of struggle or difficulty in which the Lord graciously interceded to provide relief and deliverance.  An example is Psalm 30 which begins, “I will extol thee, O LORD; for thou hast lifted me up, and hast not made my foes to rejoice over me” (v. 1).  It concludes, “O LORD my God, I will give thanks unto thee for ever.”

There are also “psalms of confidence” in which the inspired writer expresses a quiet confidence in God.  The premier example is Psalm 23 which begins, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

In this season of Thanksgiving, celebrated “part in memory,” can we do as the psalms teach and remember God’s goodness, give thanks for his deliverance, and express our quiet trust and confidence in him?
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Vision (11.21.13): Oh that we may kiss the rod!

A couple of weeks ago as I was teaching through the book of Job in my Old Testament class, I  noted that though perhaps Job did not curse God, he did voice no little despair at his severe trials.  In fact, he even despised the day of his birth:  “May the day perish on which I was born” (Job 3:3a).  Job ends, of course, with God speaking out of the whirlwind.  Job and his friend had placed God on trial, but now the tables are turned, as the Lord asks, “Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge?  Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me” (Job 38:3).  The Lord asks Job where he was when he created the world and all its creatures.  The point:  His ways are higher than our ways, his thoughts than our thoughts.  The Lord’s speech ends with him challenging Job:  “Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him?  He who rebukes God, let him answer it.” (Job 40:2). A chastened Job answers, “Behold, I am vile; What shall I answer You?  I lay my hand over my mouth” (v. 4).  As I told the class, I think what happens here is that Job becomes a Calvinist.  He humbles himself in the knowledge of the sovereign Godhood of God.

I was listening to an interview on the radio this week with a woman who said, “I was raised Baptist [and not charismatic].  We were taught not to pray that God would take away our troubles but that he would give us the grace to walk through them.”

When Sarah Edwards, wife of colonial theologian Jonathan Edwards, learned that her husband had died in 1758 at age 54 after complications from taking a small pox vaccine, she is reported to have said to her children:  What shall I say? A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud. O that we may kiss the rod, and lay our hands on our mouths! The Lord has done it. He has made me adore his goodness, that we had him so long. But my God lives; and he has my heart.”

What trials have you undergone or will you undergo in the future?  Will you place God on trial and question his justice, fairness, and goodness?  Or will you kiss the rod and lay your hand on your mouth?

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Reflections on Text, Canon, and Translation from Carl Amerding's "The Old Testament and Criticism"

I recently finished reading Carl E. Amerding’s The Old Testament and Criticism (Eerdmans, 1983).  In general I do not share Amerding’s optimism that “a moderately critical approach” to the OT is “fully consistent” with the evangelical view of revelation (p. 9).

The book’s review of literary (i.e., source) and form criticism now seems dated (pp. 21-66), as does, even more especially, the extended discussion of structural analysis (pp. 67-96). Of more lasting value is Amerding’s survey of OT text criticism (pp. 97-127).

I was particularly struck, for example, by Amerding’s observation that the development of the Old Testament canon involved not only the designation of the authoritative books that would be included in the canon but also the authoritative texts of those books:

But what was considered Scripture in this period?  As might be expected, the time from Ezra through the first Christian century was also the time when the Jewish list or canon of books became well established.  Moreover the development of an authoritative text is a natural corollary to an authoritative list of books….. (p. 101).

I remember when I suggested the connection between canon and text in the online debate with Jamin Hubner over the NT text, and he dismissed such a view as novel and obscurantist.  I have continued to raise this as an objection against the oft repeated argument of evangelicals who embrace the modern critical text that there are no major “doctrinal” issues involved in textual criticism.  Clearly, the canon of Scripture is a key doctrinal issue, and canon involves not only books but the texts of those books.

I was also struck by Amerding’s review of increasing departures in modern English translations from the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible in favor of readings and conjectural emendations drawn from the LXX, the Dead Sea Scrolls, etc.  Amerding calls attention, in particular, to the groundbreaking role of the Revised Standard Version in these departures from the traditional text:

A new era began with the publication of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the complete Bible in 1952. Not only did the revisers break with an old but now dated tradition by using the 1937 BH3 as their basic OT text, but they opened the door to a limited number of textual emendations, particularly where the LXX or another VS lent support.  Even a few readings of the DSS of Isaiah were included, although little work on the textual reliability of Qumran had been done at that time.  In general it should be noted that the RSV, despite its pioneering stance, remained reasonably conservative in its departure from the MT….

Once the barn door had been opened, however, it almost seemed as though all the horses fled at once!  A host of private and committee-produced translations have appeared since the RSV, some of which seem to treat the MT tradition with far less respect than previous custom…. (p. 116).  

This is a reminder that the issue of text is no longer limited to the NT alone, as the traditional (MT) text of the OT has been challenged by modern translations, with such challenges pioneered by the RSV.  This also explains why the ESV, following in the RSV tradition, so often provides OT translations based on textual emendations from the versions, etc. (see here for an example).

Saturday, November 16, 2013

What did Peter mean by "the gospel preached also to them that are dead" in 1 Peter 4:6?

Last Sunday evening during our Lynchburg meeting one of the college students asked me about the meaning of 1 Peter 4:6:  For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.”  What does Peter mean by the reference to “the gospel” being “preached to the dead”?

Here are some follow ups:

First, the Greek does not include the noun euangelion for “gospel” but the verb euangelizomai “to evangelize” or “to gospel-ize.”  So, the phrase in question reads:  eis touto gar kai nekrois euengelisthe and can be literally rendered, “For this reason also it was gospelized to the dead….”

Second, whatever Peter was saying here, we know that according to the analogia scripturae he was not teaching post-mortem evangelism in the sense of the wicked having the opportunity to hear and believe the gospel after death, a false interpretation sometimes drawn from misunderstanding of 1 Peter 3:19.  Such a view would contradict the teaching of Scripture elsewhere (cf. Matt 10:32-33; Luke 16:25-26; Heb 9:27).   

Third, there are at least two reasonable possibilities of interpretation.  First, it is possible that Peter is speaking here about the evangelization of those who were spiritually dead in their unregenerate state but who were made alive when they received the effectual call, were converted, repented, and believed the gospel.  Indeed, the metaphor of conversion as the transformation from death to life is central in the NT (cf. Luke 15:24, 32; Rom 6:4; Eph 2:1).  Second, it is possible that Peter is speaking here about the benefits of salvation to believers who have experienced physical death.

Fourth, here are some interpretations of the passage from various commentators:

John Calvin (Commentary on 1 Peter, 1551):  Calvin takes the reference as saying “even that death does not hinder Christ from being always our defender. It is then a remarkable consolation to the godly.  Though Christ, then, may not appear a deliverer in this life, yet his redemption is not void, or without effect; for his power extends to the dead.”

Matthew Poole (Commentary on 1 Peter, 1683):    Poole notes that “them that are dead” refers either to: “(1) spiritually dead, i.e., dead in sin, viz. then when the gospel was preached to them; or (2) Naturally, dead, viz. when the Apostle wrote this epistle.”  On the latter possibility, he adds that reference to their being “judged according to men in the flesh” but living “according to God in the Spirit” refers to the removal of “the scandal of these Christians, being reproached and condemned by unbelievers for their strictness in religion, and nonconformity to the world.” Though “condemned by men in the flesh” in this life, they are vindicated God “ending in a life with him in the other.”

Edmond Hiebert (1 Peter, 1984):  Hiebert says the verse “has been described as the most difficult text of the Bible” (p. 265).  A key question:  “How is the term ‘dead’ to be understood?”  He offers the following possibilities:

(1)  “One view understands it to refer to the spiritually dead to whom the gospel is preached so that they might enter spiritual life” (p. 266)

(2) “Others relate the preaching to the dead with the preaching of Christ in 3:19 as an event that took place during the interval between his death and resurrection.”

(3) “A widely accepted view is that those described as ‘dead’ were members of the Christian churches addressed but had died before the writing of 1 Peter.”

Hiebert seems to favor this view, adding, “The fact that they had died like other men might raise the question of whether their new faith had gained them anything.  In the eyes of their opponents, they seemed to have gained nothing.    Though they claimed to have received a new life, they died like other mortals.  Peter assured them that though they had died, they would fully share in the life brought by the Savior” (p. 267).

Thomas R. Schreiner (1, 2, Peter, Jude, 2003):  “Peter considered the case of believers who had died physically.  These people heard and believed the gospel when they were alive but had subsequently died.  Unbelievers viewed the death of believers as proof that there is no advantage in becoming a believer, for all without exception die.  Peter indicated, however, that unbelievers do not understand the whole picture.  Even though from a human perspective believers seem to gain no benefits from their faith since they die, from God’s perspective (which is normative), they live according to the Spirit” (p. 208).

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Vision (11.14.13): Epistles

It is noteworthy that a large portion of the New Testament consists of letters written from apostles and leaders (like Paul, Peter, James, and John) to the early churches. Many of those letters provide updates on ministry, material needs, doctrinal teaching, and prayer concerns.

I thought of that in recent days as I received several letters (emails) from ministers serving abroad.

One note came from Andy and Beth Rice, missionaries in Zambia, whom our church supports through monthly giving:

Dear Pastor Jeff & Christ Reformed Baptist Church,

Greetings from Lusaka, Zambia. God is glorious and worthy of all our adoration and praise. Our desire is to be worshippers who hold Jesus up above ourselves and even above our ministries. We are thankful to be your missionaries in Africa and we desire to glorify God through the opportunities He gives us. God has been good toward us through the grace given us in Jesus Christ, but also in His provision and protection which He has shown to us as we have transitioned to this new ministry.

We are both busy teaching, mentoring, and reaching out to the people of Lusaka. Those we are working the most closely with live in the compounds which are the poorest sections of the city. They face many financial difficulties, but are rich in faith and love. We are thankful for their desire to grow in Christ and learn His Word. In fact, it is a motivation for our own spiritual growth and development.

We want to thank you for the financial support which you are giving toward our mission. Without your support and the prayers of God’s people we would not be here. You have been and continue to be partners with us in this mission of training pastors and their wives in Zambia. Your partnership and friendship is an encouragement to us and we want to thank you for all that you do for us.

Through the power of the Cross, Andy & Beth

Another was a brief letter shared on a Reformed Baptist ministers’ list from a Pastor of a Reformed Baptist Church in the Philippines:

Dear Brethren

The church is doing benevolence work for the churches affected by the devastating storm, Haiyan or Yolanday. We already have a team that left for Leyte and will be sending another soon to survey needs. Please check our website for updates on specific requirements and how you may help. 

Thank you, Pastor Jose Francis "Nene" Martinez

May the Lord continue to work through his faithful servants in places all over the world.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Young and Longman on the Genre and Historicity of Esther

In preparation for teaching Survey of the Old Testament this semester, I’ve been reading several introductory works on the OT.  On one hand, I’ve been working my way through Edward J. Young’s An Introduction to the Old Testament, Revised Edition (Eerdmans, 1964).  Young taught OT at Westminster Seminary, was fully conversant with modern historical-critical study of the OT, yet largely rejected it, and defended traditional, pre-critical understandings of the OT, including affirmations of its historicity.  On the other hand, I’ve also been reading Tremper Longman III’s Introducing the Old Testament (Zondervan, 2012; an abridgement of Longman and Dillard’s An Introduction to the Old Testament).  Longman is a contemporary evangelical who attempts to bridge the divide between naturalistic modern historical-critical and traditional approaches to the OT.

The contrast between Young and Longman is evident at numerous points along the way in their handling of the OT.  While Young tenaciously defends the general historical reliability of the OT accounts (creation, exodus, conquest, etc.), Longman offers an excursus on “theological history” in which he argues that one need not defend the historical veracity of OT details in order to appreciate its theological purposes (pp. 84-85).  Thus, Longman states:  “While not all narrative texts are necessarily historical (e. g., Job) and not all historical texts are concerned with the same measure of precision of historical reporting (e. g., Gen. 1—11), historical narrative is important in the Old Testament” (p. 84).  He urges readers to distinguish “between writing about past events and the events themselves,” noting:  “Historical narrative is a representation of the events and involves literary artifice” (p. 84).

I was struck by the divergence of these approaches this week as I read both authors on the genre and historicity of Esther.

Though Longman’s interpretation of Esther is “conservative” in that he does not see the work as purely a work of fiction, he is only willing to offer the tepid affirmation that it is historical “in its broad outline”:

Like Ruth, Esther has been catalogued as a short story or novella, often with the implication that it is a work of fiction.  However, the highly artistic nature of the storytelling does not preclude the idea that the book is telling a story that, at least in broad outline, actually happened in space and time.  Debate will continue, since, while classical and cuneiform sources by and large demonstrate the author’s familiarity with Persian mores and court life, there remain some problems with the historical details of the book (p. 82).

In sharp contrast is Young’s analysis of Esther’s historicity (pp. 355-56).  He acknowledges:  “By many modern scholars, the historicity of the book is completely denied and it is regarded as nothing more than a historical romance” (p. 355).  After sifting through the evidence, Young reaches a conclusion typical for his Introduction:

However, in light of the remarkable historical and geographical accuracy of the book, and in view of the extremely weak character of the arguments adduced against that historicity, in view of the fact that the book purports to be straightforward history and is lacking in the fancy that characterizes mere romances, we believe that the only correct interpretation is to regard the work as strictly historical (p. 357).

These contrasting conclusions highlight two divergent approaches to the study of the Old Testament, the assimilation of modern historical-critical scholarship, and the affirmation of Biblical authority.  Upon reflection it appears to me that the contrast between Young and Longman is not merely that between a “fundamentalistic” and an “evangelical” approach, but that between a “confessional” and a “non-confessional” approach.  Young’s insistence on the historicity of Esther (and the rest of the OT) flows from his commitment to the infallibility of Scripture as expressed in chapter one of the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

CRBC Sunday School Lesson and Discussion on Baptismal Mode (11.10.13)

I posted the audio from last Lord's Day's Sunday School discussion at CRBC on the subject of baptismal mode.  I also posted a pdf of the PowerPoint I used for the lesson.  We only do this class after lunch once of a month (on the second Sunday) in place of our afternoon worship, since I have to leave early to preach at a local retirement home.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Thomas Vincent: Ten Ways to Keep the Seventh Commandment

Note:  In my series through Spurgeon’s Baptist Catechism, I have been making heavy use of the Puritan Thomas Vincent’s exposition of the Shorter Catechism.  Here is an excerpt from my part 2 sermon on the Seventh Commandment in which I made use of this adaptation from Vincent:

Thomas Vincent on 10 ways to preserve one’s chastity and thus keep the seventh commandment:

1.  By watchfulness:

a.  Over our hearts and spirits, to oppose uncleanness in the first desires of it and inclinations of the heart to it, and risings of it in the thoughts.  Proverbs 4:23:  “Keep thy heart with all diligence.”

b.  Over our senses; our eyes, to turn them away from such objects as may provoke lust.  Job said he made a covenant with his eyes not to look lustfully upon a maiden (Job 31:1).  Our ears, to shut them against lascivious discourse; we must watch also against such touches and wanton dalliances as may be an incentive to unchaste desires, and take heed of all light and lewd company, and watch to avoid all occasions, and resist temptations to uncleanness.  When Joseph was approached by Potiphar’s wife he refused, saying, “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Gen 39:9).

2.  By diligence in our callings:

His point is that temptation to unchastity often arises out of idleness.  Thus, he urges that our bodies and minds be busily employed so that we might be preserved from unclean practices and desires which idle persons are prone unto.  Proverbs 31 describes the virtuous woman as one who does not eat “the bread of idleness.”

3.  By temperance in eating and drinking:

Vincent argues that excess in either tends to pamper the body and so excite lust.  In Jeremiah 5:8, the prophet describes his own generation as overfed horses who “neighed after” their neighbor’s wife.  The Proverbs wisely warns against drunkenness which leads men to “behold strange women” and to utter “perverse things” (Proverbs 23:33).

4.  By abstinence, and keeping under the body, when there is need, with frequent fastings.

5.  By the fear of God, and awful apprehension of his presence and all seeing-eye. 

All sin, in fact, we might say is an act of practical atheism.  Consider:

Proverbs 5:20 And why wilt thou, my son, be ravished with a strange woman, and embrace the bosom of a stranger? 21 For the ways of man are before the eyes of the LORD, and he pondereth all his goings.

We cannot justify unchastity as a “victimless sin” if done among consenting adults or if done in the privacy of one’s inner thought life.  All is seen by God.  And all sin, public or private, in an affront to a holy God.

6.  By faith in Jesus Christ, and thereby drawing virtue from him for the purifying of the heart and the crucifying of the fleshly lusts.

In Galatians 5:24 Paul writes that those who belong to Christ “have crucified the flesh, with the affections and lusts.”

7.  By the applications of the promises of cleansing the heart, and subduing iniquity.

Micah 7:19 promises:  “He will subdue our iniquities.”  And Paul urges:

2 Corinthians 7:1 Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

8.  By the help of the Spirit:

Vincent cites Paul:

Romans 8:13 For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.

John Owen had a famous exposition of this verse called The Mortification of Sin in which he warned that we will either kill sin or sin will kill us.

9.  By frequent and fervent prayer:

Think of David’s prayer to God in Psalm 51 in which he pleads for God to create a clean heart within him.

Jesus himself taught us to pray:  “And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil” (Matt 6:13).

10.  When no other means will avail to quench burning desires, marriage is to be made use of; and that must be in the Lord.

Paul said it is better to marry than to burn (1 Cor 7:9).  His point is that God has given a lawful arena for the expression of sexual desire and it is within marriage.