Credo’s Cache

Posted by on Oct 24, 2014 in Credo's cache | No Comments
Credo’s Cache

Each week we will be highlighting important resources. Check back each Friday to see what we have dug up for you. From this week’s cache:

1. God’s School of WaitingBy Jeff Robinson - Robinson says: “I pray that God will sanctify my impatience. After all, isn’t that the word that really describes our distaste for waiting? Perhaps it really is a sign of God’s love for me that I seem to find the rush hour traffic jam virtually every day.”

2. Cheerful Confidence after ChristendomBy Timothy Larsen - Larsen notes: “God is looking for men and women who are glad to be alive; who count as a privilege to be his servants at this moment; who are thrilled to be taking part in the coming of the kingdom of God in this generation.”

3. Sin is Worse Than HellBy Johnathon Bowers - Bowers says: “When Isaiah stood before the thundering magnificence of God, he saw his sin in its true light and it undid him. I suspect that in that moment, Isaiah would have thought no punishment too severe for his crimes.”

4. Reigning with Christ on Daily MissionBy Jason Garwood – Garwood says: “Parents: train up your children in the knowledge of God. Farm the land; build business and do economics; do accounting to the glory of God. Why? Because you reign with Christ. And Christ is in the process of putting all his enemies under his feet (1 Cor. 15:25).”

5. Jesus saves, faith does notBy Scott Swain - Swain says: “Jesus and faith go hand in hand. But they do so in a definite order and relation. Confuse that order and relation and you–as well as those who overhear your confusion–will have serious spiritual problems.”

Matt Manry is the Assistant Pastor at Life Bible Church in Canton, Georgia. He is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Religion at Reformed Theological Seminary and a Masters of Arts in Christian and Classical Studies from Knox Theological Seminary.

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How Infant Immersion is Similar to Alligator Wrestling; Or, Why the Mode of Baptism is Actually Important (Timothy Raymond)

Posted by on Oct 23, 2014 in Baptism, Timothy Raymond | 6 Comments
How Infant Immersion is Similar to Alligator Wrestling; Or, Why the Mode of Baptism is Actually Important  (Timothy Raymond)

So I’m preaching through the Gospel of John and the other day I came across a fascinating little sentence by John Calvin.  Commenting on John 3:23 (“…water was plentiful there…”, ESV), Calvin writes:

“From these words, we may infer that John and Christ administered baptism by plunging the whole body beneath the water.”

– John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel According to John

I remembered Calvin said something similar in The Institutes:

“It is evident that the term ‘baptize’ means to immerse, and that this was the form used by the primitive Church.”

– John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, IV, xv, 19

I did a little digging and discovered that Luther, Wesley, and several other revered paedobaptists scholars were also rather forthright in confessing that the early church practiced baptism by complete immersion.

Now in both of the above contexts Calvin is quick to go on to say that the mode of baptism is completely irrelevant and that we should not feel bound to practice baptism by immersion today.  But it got me thinking.  Why is Calvin so concerned to stress that churches need not follow the biblical pattern today?  Why is there frank admission that baptism in the New Testament was the complete dunking of an individual in water but rare is the evangelical paedobaptist who immerses babies today?  If baptism as practiced by both John the Baptist and Jesus was baptism by complete submersion, why have I never seen or heard of this performed (at least on infants) by my Presbyterian and Reformed brethren?

I realize it’s possible that I’m just sheltered and that there are plenty of Presbyterian and Reformed pastors completely dunking infants under water.  But I doubt it.  And I think that here we get at one reason why the mode of baptism is relevant to the baptism debate.  Let me put it bluntly: if true baptism is and should be (to use Calvin’s words) the “plunging the whole body beneath the water”, infant baptism becomes highly unlikely.  For how many infants excel at being fully immersed in water?  And how many mothers would be comfortable with some strange pastor completely submerging their infant in water?

As the father of five youngsters who has administered countless infant baths (though no infant “baptisms”), I know how much young children enjoy going under water.  By which I mean, they positively hate it.  On more than one occasion, bathing my children has somehow transformed into alligator wrestling with both father and child winding up frustrated and soaked.  Young kids just don’t like going under water.  And simply renaming it “baptism” won’t help one bit.

Just imagine for a minute that New Testament baptism is immersion and that we should follow the biblical pattern (crazy thought, huh?).  This would strongly suggest that baptism is really only appropriate for those who can safely go through the biblical experience (i.e., those with enough cognitive sense to hold their breath when they see themselves about to go under).  Obviously I’m not going to have my infant mow my lawn or take out the trash; those duties require somebody with the capacities to perform them.  Likewise, if baptism is and should be immersion, then infant baptism becomes dubious at best.

And I really think this is why Calvin and his heirs have been so quick to emphasize that we need not follow the biblical pattern today.  They realize that infant submersion is a hurdle too high to jump for most.  (Unless, of course, you want to say that it’s necessary for salvation, like the Eastern Orthodox, which is another conversation altogether.)  But infant sprinkling?  That’s much more palatable.

If you’re one of our faithful paedobaptist friends, thank you for reading.  If you trust the Lord Jesus, you are my brother, our differences on this point notwithstanding.  Believe it or not, but I named three of my children after paedobaptists.  But here’s my challenge.  The next time you’re going to baptize an infant, just ask the mother if she’d be okay with you baptizing her infant by immersion.  What does her reaction tell you about the appeal of immersing infants?  And how many babies do you think you’d baptize in a year if you were committed to following the New Testament mode of baptism?

Now the reason I’m emphasizing this is because I’ve heard in recent times even Baptists claiming that the mode of baptism is basically irrelevant and that we should focus our argument for credobaptism chiefly on the candidates of baptism (i.e., believers).  While I entirely agree that the candidate for baptism is the more important point, I don’t believe that the mode of baptism is pointless.  If Calvin’s right, that New Testament baptism was immersion, and if we should follow that biblical pattern (and why wouldn’t we?), let’s teach, emphasize, and practice that.  For that will make infant baptism all the more implausible.

Timothy Raymond is an editor for Credo Magazine and has been the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Muncie, Indiana since April 2006. He received his MDiv from the Baptist Bible Seminary of Pennsylvania in 2004 and has pursued further education through the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation.

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How to lead your worship service this Reformation Day – Soli Deo Gloria (Matthew Barrett)

Posted by on Oct 22, 2014 in Matthew Barrett, Reformation | One Comment
How to lead your worship service this Reformation Day – Soli Deo Gloria (Matthew Barrett)

In this series of posts we have explored what it might look like to devote 5 services around the 5 solas of the Reformation. In this last post we will tease this out with the doctrine of soli Deo gloria, to God alone be the glory.  Out of all of the solas, this sola smoothly corresponds to worship itself where we are praising and glorifying our great God for what he has done to redeem us and what he is now doing to help us live for him. My hope, then, is that this last sola will bring things to a climax.

This Sunday my church will begin with a song of worship that is really meant to be a call to worship itself. The hymn is: “Brethren, We Have Met to Worship.” (I especially appreciate Michael Card’s version of this song.) However, before the song the worship leader will have the people recite together the first answer to the Westminster Larger Catechism:

Q 1: What is the chief and highest end of man?

Ans.: Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God and fully to enjoy him for ever.

Could there be a more fitting way to start a service on soli Deo gloria?

acht_reformatoren_bock_hieronymus_buchenhagen_johann_calvin_johann_hus_johannes_luther_martin_melanchthon_philipp..._teaserAfter this first hymn comes a reading from John Calvin on the glory of God in worship:

Shifty, slippery, inattentive is the mind toward thinking of God unless exercised by prayerful speech and song. The glory of God ought to shine in the various parts of our bodies, especially in the tongue, created to sing, speak forth, tell, proclaim the praise of God. And the tongue’s chief task is, in the public prayers offered in the assembly of believers, with one common voice, with a single mouth, to glorify God together, to worship him together in one spirit, one faith.

This paragraph by Calvin is followed by a prayer that voices the congregation’s desire to glorify God and praise him for the great redemption he has accomplished through his Son and applied by his Spirit.

After this reading from Calvin are two more songs of worship that fit the theme: “To God be the Glory” and Luther’s “A Might Fortress is Our God.” Since I have talked about the latter already, consider some of the words of the former:

To God be the glory, great things He hath done,
So loved He the world that He gave us His Son,
Who yielded His life our redemption to win,
And opened the life-gate that all may go in.

As you can see, this classic hymn brings our minds to the very gates of this doctrine, soli Deo gloria, not focusing on what we have done but on what God has done through his Son in order to bring glory to his name.

After this hymn is our time to take our morning offering, accompanied by another hymn: “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Once again, this hymn exalts God, reminding us just how holy and righteous he is.

Then comes the scriptural reading, this time from Psalm 29. I won’t quote it all, but I do want you to hear the first couple verses which relate to soli Deo gloria:

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,

Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;

Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.

Finally, the sermon on soli Deo gloria is preached. While this sermon will eventually turn to the practical implications of the doctrine in one’s vocation, that is not the starting point. Rather, I will begin with how all the solas are wrapped up in this final sola, demonstrating that our redemption has as its primary purpose the glory of God’s name. Only then will we understand what it means to live for his glory in a God-centered way. Of course, I will start the sermon, as I have done with the others, by telling a story from the Reformation that focuses on this particular sola.

The service concludes with “To God be the Glory” once more, followed by a benediction from 1 Timothy 1:17, “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”

I hope these posts on the 5 solas have been instructive. My hope is that they give you hope if you are a pastor of a church where these solas may never be talked about or studied. Perhaps they can be an avenue into which God himself ignites a fire in the hearts of your people for the gospel of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Matthew Barrett (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at California Baptist University, as well as the founder and executive editor of Credo Magazine. Barrett is also Senior Pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church. He is the author and editor of several books, including Salvation by Grace: The Case for Effectual Calling and Regeneration. You can read about Barrett’s other publications at matthewmbarrett.com.

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Barrett’s Book Notes: Westminster Confession

Posted by on Oct 21, 2014 in Book Notes | 2 Comments
Barrett’s Book Notes: Westminster Confession

9781433533112mJ. V. Fesko. The Theology of the Westminster Standards: Historical Context and Theological Insights. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014.

The Westminster Confession is one of the most important doctrinal statements in the history of the church. And J. V. Fesko’s book is its much needed twenty-first century companion, an invaluable resource for the theologically minded. Fesko not only paints the seventeenth-century historical context in which the confession was birthed, but takes us behind the scenes, introducing us to the fabric of Puritan theology. Fesko’s exposition of the Westminster Standards is brilliant and it should be every reader’s first stop on the way to understanding and applying the biblically saturated theology of these Westminster divines.

Here is the publisher’s description:

For centuries, countless Christians have turned to the Westminster Standards for insights into the Christian faith. These renowned documents—first published in the middle of the 17th century—are widely regarded as some of the most beautifully written summaries of the Bible’s teaching ever produced.

Church historian John Fesko walks readers through the background and theology of the Westminster Confession, the Larger Catechism, and the Shorter Catechism, helpfully situating them within their original context. Organized according to the major categories of systematic theology, this book utilizes quotations from other key works from the same time period to shed light on the history and significance of these influential documents.

And here are commendations for the book:

“One of the ways of demonstrating the abiding relevance of our confessions is to understand the conversations and debates from which they emerged. John Fesko has done precisely this. Digging around each plant in the Westminster garden, Fesko exposes the rich soil that still nourishes our faith and practice. I picked up this book expecting to find a resource to be consulted, but found myself reading the whole work through with rapt attention. There is gold in these hills!”
– Michael Horton, J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics, Westminster Seminary California; author, Calvin on the Christian Life

“Finally we have a solid analysis and an expert portrayal of the theology of the Westminster Standards in which the time of its writing and its direct influence are also described. John Fesko has gathered an enormous amount of information that makes this book a sourcebook par excellence. He does the church and its theology a great favor with this overview, helping us to understand the Westminster Confession and catechisms not only in their theological context, but also in their relevance for today.”
– Herman Selderhuis, Professor of Church History, Theological University of Apeldoorn; Director, Refo500, The Netherlands

“Drawing upon a significant body of recent research, John Fesko has written an admirably clear and accessible study of the teaching of the Westminster Confession. By situating the successive chapters in their original seventeenth–century setting, he provides an informed exposition of their content and significance. This study will be immensely useful not only for theological students, but for all who require a better understanding of the most important Reformed confession in the English–speaking world.”
– David Fergusson, Professor of Divinity and Principal, New College University of Edinburgh

“Seldom has an exposition of the Westminster Standards been as useful as John Fesko’s Theology of the Westminster Standards. Dr. Fesko understands the necessity of placing these monumental documents into their proper contexts. He has uncovered a massive amount of contemporary literature and expertly explains the theological statements of the Standards in the light of these works. For everyone interested in confessionalism, this is an essential volume. It will be a standard work for decades to come.”
– James M. Renihan, Dean and Professor of Historical Theology, Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies

“Fesko’s volume is an outstanding and very welcome addition to the growing field of literature on the Westminster Confession of Faith. In these pages Fesko goes straight to the primary sources, skillfully mining relevant sixteenth– and seventeenth–century texts in order to explain the historical and theological developments leading up to the assembly. Moreover, he provides fresh and insightful analysis of the theology of the Confession itself. Do you want to grow in your knowledge and understanding of the Reformed faith in general, and the theology of the Westminster Confession in particular? If the answer is yes, then pick up and read this marvelous book. I heartily commend it!”
– Jon D. Payne, Presbyterian Church in America church planter, Charleston, South Carolina; Visiting Lecturer, Reformed Theological Seminary; Series Editor, Lectio Continua Expository Commentary on the New Testament

Matthew Barrett (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at California Baptist University, as well as the founder and executive editor of Credo Magazine. Barrett is also Senior Pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church. He is the author and editor of several books, including Salvation by Grace: The Case for Effectual Calling and Regeneration. You can read about Barrett’s other publications at matthewmbarrett.com.

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The Church as the Theatre of God’s Glory

Posted by on Oct 20, 2014 in Church, Jeremy Kimble, John Calvin | One Comment
The Church as the Theatre of God’s Glory

I love the church and love thinking about not just her function, but also the nature that undergirds those functions. Mark Dever has made known the wonderful idea, “The church is the gospel made visible.” While this is a brief quote from John Calvin, I love how he captures this idea for the church existing for the glory of God. While the whole world is displaying God’s glory in some fashion, Calvin described the church as an orchestra, which connotes both beauty and visibility. The church is the most glorious way that His attributes are clearly displayed and where people have a window into the love that God’s people have for one another (John 13:34-35). This imagery is needful for us to keep in mind as we seek to display the riches of God’s Word through preaching, show forth visible displays of the gospel through the ordinances, and rightly discipline the church so as to pursue holiness in the midst of the world. May this image of the church be front and center in our minds as live corporately for His glory.

The whole world is a theatre for the display of the divine goodness, wisdom, justice, and power, but the Church is the orchestra, as it were—the most conspicuous part of it; and the nearer the approaches are that God makes to us, the more intimate and condescending the communication of his benefits, the more attentively are we called to consider them.

Jeremy Kimble (PhD, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at Cedarville University. He is an editor for Credo Magazine as well as the author of That His Spirit May Be Saved: Church Discipline as a Means to Repentance and Perseverance and numerous book reviews. He is married to Rachel and has two children, Hannah and Jonathan.

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Credo’s Cache

Posted by on Oct 17, 2014 in Credo's cache | No Comments
Credo’s Cache

Each week we will be highlighting important resources. Check back each Friday to see what we have dug up for you. From this week’s cache:

1. The Mars Hill PostmortemBy Trevin Wax - Wax says: “In our celebrity-driven world, we are more apt to promote and praise people simply for attracting attention than for demonstrating faithful service and ministry experience over many years. The social media world adds another layer of complexity, as people who burst onto the scene with a strong social presence and later torn apart limb from limb on the same social media channels. We prop people up and then watch them fall.”

2. The Epidemic of Male Body HatredBy Paul Maxwell - Maxwell notes: “A man who hates his body is really searching for love — a fundamentally relational search for intimacy with self in the form of confidence, intimacy with the opposite sex in being sexy, intimacy with the same sex in intimidation or acceptance, intimacy with authority in competency, and ultimately intimacy with God, in appearing worthy.”

3. Behold Your MotherBy Daniel Darling - Darling says: “Care of parents, particularly in the latter years, is difficult, grueling, and offers little tangible reward. The elderly seem like speed bumps on the road to relevance. But if we really believe each human life was made in the image of God, if we really believe that every human has intrinsic worth, regardless of utility, we’d do better at embodying this ethic when it comes to equipping our people to care for their elderly parents.”

4. The Progressive Evangelical PackageBy Derek Rishmawy – Rishmawy says: “Theological development—like all intellectual development—happens within communities, traditions, and cultures whose shifting plausibility structures are often invisible to us as we participate in them.”

5. Reformed Theological Diversity (lots of it)By Mark Jones - Jones says: “Since that book, my understanding of diversity within the Reformed tradition has been confirmed more strongly. What are some of the areas that were disputed among Reformed theologians?”

Matt Manry is the Assistant Pastor at Life Bible Church in Canton, Georgia. He is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Religion at Reformed Theological Seminary and a Masters of Arts in Christian and Classical Studies from Knox Theological Seminary.

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How to lead your worship service this Reformation Day – Sola Fide (Matthew Barrett)

Posted by on Oct 16, 2014 in Matthew Barrett, Reformation, Reformers | One Comment
How to lead your worship service this Reformation Day – Sola Fide (Matthew Barrett)

In my last two posts (go here and here) I have been seeking to give pastors and worship leaders an example of what it might look like to structure their church services around the solas of the Reformation for five Sundays leading up to October 31. The aim in all of this is to take an opportunity to introduce your congregation to these core, foundational doctrines of the faith. So far I have found my congregation to be very receptive, even excited as many of them are discovering these doctrines for the first time.

Life_of_Martin_LutherToday we turn to sola fide and what better hymn to start with than Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”? Luther draws our eyes to Christ and his work on our behalf as the basis of our justification and the assurance of our salvation.

Next is a reading from Calvin’s 1537 Catechisms on “What True Faith Is.” In my opinion, this is one of the most beautiful and robust definitions on Christian faith. Here it is:

One must not imagine that the Christian faith is a bare and mere knowledge of God or an understanding of the Scripture which flutters in the brain without touching the heart, as it is usually the case with the opinion about things which are confirmed by some probably reason. But faith is a firm and solid confidence of the heart, by means of which we rest surely in the mercy of God which is promised to us through the Gospel. For thus the definition of faith must be taken from the substance of the promise. Faith rests so much on this foundation that, if the latter be taken away, faith would collapse at once, or, rather, vanish away. Hence, when the Lord presents to us his mercy through the promise of the Gospel, if we certainly and without hesitation trust him who made the promise, we are said to apprehend his word through faith. And this definition is not different from that of the apostle (Heb. 11:1) in which he teaches that faith is the certainty of the things to be hoped for and the demonstration of the things not apparent; for he means a sure and secure possession of the things that God promises, and an evidence of the things that are not apparent, that is to say, the life eternal. And this we conceive through confidence in the divine goodness which is offered to us through the Gospel. Now, since all the promises of God are gathered together and confirmed in Christ and are, so to speak, kept and accomplished in him, it appears without doubt that Christ is the perpetual object of faith. And in that object, faith contemplates all the riches of the divine mercy.

This reading is followed by a prayer on behalf of the congregation, expressing our faith in Christ as our Savior and Lord. By the way, as a side note, those individuals who read and pray are members from the congregation that I schedule ahead of time. Some of them are elders and deacons, but some of them are church members. I have found that this practice eliminates the tendency prevalent in so many churches to view the service as a show and as the job of those on stage. As a Baptist church in particular, it is a great way to practice congregationalism. The entire church is being engaged in worship, calling one another to trust in Jesus. But enough on that, what’s next?

Next comes two more songs of worship, each of which focuses on the importance of faith in God’s promises. For this Sunday we have chosen two Gettys songs: “Every Promise” and “O Church Arise.” For example, consider the striking words in the former:
 

After these hymns one of our elders will pray over the offering and the congregation will sing “Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus.” Again, notice how this song centers on faith in Christ. Here is a stanza, for example:

O how sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to trust His cleansing blood;
And in simple faith to plunge me
’Neath the healing, cleansing flood!

Following this hymn is the sermon Scripture reading from Galatians 3:10-14, a passage which gets at the core of sola fide:

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

This Scripture reading, which we have the people stand for in order to show our reverence for God and his Word, is followed by a passionate sermon explaining and proclaiming that sinners are justified through faith alone. In this sermon I will also take the opportunity to introduce the church to a reformer. I typically have done this by picking a story of a Reformer or of the Reformation at large that will zero in on the sola in focus. Since I already discussed Luther in previous sermons, in this sermon I will turn to Calvin and his interaction with Sadoleto who tried to convince the church in Geneva to return to Rome and abandon doctrines like sola fide.

The sermon is followed by a song of worship, “By Faith,” again from the Gettys. It is hard to think of a better song than this after a sermon on sola fide. Listen to the words:
 

Finally, the service ends with a benediction from Jude 24-25:

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Matthew Barrett (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at California Baptist University, as well as the founder and executive editor of Credo Magazine. Barrett is also Senior Pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church. He is the author and editor of several books, including Salvation by Grace: The Case for Effectual Calling and Regeneration. You can read about Barrett’s other publications at matthewmbarrett.com.

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The Wonder-Working God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Miracles (Interview with Jared Wilson)

Posted by on Oct 15, 2014 in Interviews | One Comment
The Wonder-Working God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Miracles (Interview with Jared Wilson)

There is never any shortage of fascination with the supernatural. Be it in, or outside of the evangelical world, the miraculous is something we simply can’t ignore. For some it becomes an obsession, while for others it feels safer to pretend it doesn’t exist. For Christians, the subject of miracles is one we should seek to rightly understand, specifically in the context of the Gospels. To this end Jared Wilson has contributed a winsomely and worshipful work which helps us do just that. I was privileged to ask him a few questions about his latest title, The Wonder Working God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Miracles and the all-important subject it explores. After reading this interview, I highly recommend you pick up a copy for yourself and wonder at our Wonder Working God

In what sense is your most recent book, The Wonder Working God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Miracles, a follow up to, The Storytelling God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Parables, published earlier this year, and in what ways do Jesus’s parables and His miracles serve the same purpose?

The books are complementary works in that they cover these two unique features of Jesus’ ministry by examining how they function in the in-breaking of God’s kingdom on earth. Both Jesus’ parables and miracles give us “windows” into the kingdom – snapshots, as it were, of what life under Christ’s Kingship looks like and what ramifications Christ’s work has for mankind. Additionally, both the miracles and the parables serve this unique function of simultaneously revealing and concealing. Depending on the heart of the person hearing or witnessing, the parables may reveal Christ’s glory or be utterly confusing. The miracles may strike someone as a signpost to the spiritual healing of the gospel or they may turn someone against it.

How should we define the word “miracle,” and in doing so do we need two separate definitions, one in relation to the time of Jesus’s earthly ministry, and one for our modern context?

My definition of “miracle” is somewhat counterintuitive, because we tend to think of miracles as a “bending” of the ordinary or a disruption of what’s normal for something supernatural. And of course that is true from the perspective of finite minds in a fallen creation. A miracle is a supernatural act that suspends for the moment the ordinary course of the natural. But the miracles of Christ are, properly understood, actually acts of bending the fallen world back into its original normalcy! The miracles are reminders of the world as it used to be, before sin came and corrupted everything, and of the world as it one day will be, when Christ returns to vanquish sin and death finally and set all things back to rights.

I do think we see more miracles in Jesus’ day, if only because Jesus walking around on earth is quite a special thing. We should expect extraordinary ripples in the Incarnational ministry, and even in the work of the apostles in the explosive dawn of the early church. So while miracles have never been common, they proliferated more in the life of Christ and the early church. And yet I would say the definition for the Christian miraculous today would remain the same. If and when God works what we call miracles today, they are meant to point us away from the miracle and to the glory of Christ.

Wonder Working God CoverWhy is it that miracles in our day are not as common as they appear to be in the New Testament, or is this simply a false perception?

It’s not a false perception. As I said, I think the specialness of Christ’s physical presence, the inauguration of the kingdom, and the launch of the church were all special things in history that should be expected to carry extraordinary signs and the proliferation of them. I think this is why most of the most credible reporting of miracles like we see in the Bible tend to come from the mission field where the gospel is brand new in the midst of unreached people groups.

Is there such thing as counterfeit miracles, and if so how are we to discern between real and fake, authentic versus feigned?

We certainly see in the Bible the working of miracles by ungodly means. Pharaoah’s sorcerers come to mind, as well as some of the pagan exorcists and miracle workers in the New Testament. The miracles themselves were legitimate enough, but they are not works that ought to be trusted because they are done through demonic power and therefore do not point us to Jesus. Even today, we can discern between legitimate miracles and signs sometimes performed in self-proclaimed Christian churches by seeing how much emphasis is put on the miraculous over against the Miracle-worker, how much emphasis is put on material goods or health, how connected the miracles are to the false gospels of prosperity or “word of faith,” and how interested in confession and repentance the miracle-enjoyers seem to be.

Though we only have one recorded instance where unbelief seemingly hindered Jesus’s willingness to perform miracles, what are we to make of this? To what extent does our faith, or lack thereof play a part when it comes to the miraculous?

Our faith plays a huge part, but we have to stay away from mathematical formulas. Sometimes God heals the doubter. This is an act of grace. Sometimes God does not heal the faithful. This is an act of grace too. So we let God set the requirements for how he will work, and we stay away from the idea that we’d see miracles “if only we’d believe.” That is a focus on the miracle rather than the Miracle-worker, and it is a rather common variation of the prosperity gospel that’s infected wider evangelicalism.

C.S. Lewis remarked that we can fall into two errors when it comes to our belief in devils; one being to disbelieve in their existence, and the other being an “excessive and unhealthy interest” in them. It seems the same two errors can be made regarding miracles. What is the danger of falling into either of these errors?

Well, the danger on the skeptical side is failing to take the biblical teaching at face value, but even greater, to assume that God can only work in certain ways. It is, ultimately, an attempt to hem in God’s sovereignty. On the other hand, of course, we see a host of abuses and perversions. And it’s typically these wrongs that push the skeptics further into their trench. We may be in danger of doubting God’s miraculous working today, but many are in perhaps a greater danger of obsessing over them too much, of in fact making an idol out of the idea of the miraculous. And we see in the Scriptures how eternally dangerous it can be to focus on the signs and miss Him who is signified by them.

Whenever Jesus’s miracles are brought up, it seems only a matter of time before the question of “how” arises. People want to know if Jesus preformed miracles as God or man, in his divinity, or his humanity. Some avoid asking this sort of question at all for fear of being irreverent or even blasphemous. Is this a type of question we should be asking, or in doing so are we “missing the forest for the trees?”

I don’t think we can partition Jesus’ dual nature out that way. He was both fully God and fully man. The writers and witnesses of the Gospels can only emphasize certain perspectives, so of course sometimes we see one aspect emphasized over another, but I don’t think this gives us safe ground to begin dissecting or categorizing Jesus’ works and words in this way. There are some clear delineations we can make – for instance, Jesus was killable because he was human, but he also could have prevented his own death through employment of his divinity, and of course God did not die on the cross. But when it comes to the miracles, I don’t think we are blasphemous to follow that train of thought, just sidetracked. Jesus, as the God-Man, performed miracles a man full of the Spirit of God. That may be as much as we can say.

In addition to the Bible Studies you have written and the books you have co-authored, you have published seven books in the last four years, including a novel. Do you see yourself taking a break from writing anytime in the future, or can we expect to see more in the years ahead? Are there any writing projects you have currently in the works we can be looking forward to?

I have always been a writer, even since childhood, so I’m always writing. I don’t think I could foresee a time when I might take a break from writing. Perhaps a break from publishing, but not any time soon. I spent almost ten years trying to get published before my first book, so in a way, I feel as though I’m making up for lost time. And I do see this work as an extension of my ministry and a service to the church.

I have two books coming out next year – a gentle critique of the attractional model of ministry called The Prodigal Church and a unique look at how the coming new heavens and new earth give meaning to everyday life tentatively titled God’s Plan for Everything – both from Crossway. I have also contributed some help to Matt Chandler’s next book, a look at romance, marriage, and sex through the Song of Solomon. And I have a Bible study resource coming out next year as part of a new series called “The Gospel-Shaped Church” from The Good Book Co. and The Gospel Coalition.

Jared C. Wilson is the pastor of Middletown Springs Community Church in Middletown Springs, Vermont. His articles and short stories have appeared in a number of periodicals, and he has written the popular books Your Jesus Is Too Safe, Gospel Wakefulness and Gospel Deeps, as well as the curriculum Abide. Wilson lives in Vermont with his wife and two daughters, and blogs regularly at The Gospel Driven Church hosted by the Gospel Coalition.

David Livernois is married to Nicole, the love of his life; they have three amazing children, Riley, Sarai and Abigail, all of which are undeserved miracles pointing to the goodness of our Wonder Working God, Christ Jesus. They live in the beautiful mountains of Western North Carolina where they are active members of Missio Dei Asheville.

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The Duty of Searching the Scriptures (George Whitefield)

Posted by on Oct 14, 2014 in Magazine-George Whitefield at 300 | One Comment
The Duty of Searching the Scriptures (George Whitefield)

In the recent issue of Credo Magazine, “George Whitefield at 300,” George Whitefield himself contributed! Whitefield’s sermon, “The Duty of Searching the Scriptures,” a sermon based off of John 5:39, is a wonderful exhortation to digest God’s Word for spiritual nourishment. Here is the start of the sermon:

New Fixed Credo July 2014 CoverWhen the Sadducees came to our blessed Lord and put to him the question, ‘whose wife that woman should be in the next life, who had seven husbands in this,’ he told them ‘they erred, not knowing the scriptures’ [Matthew 22:29]. And if we would know whence all the errors that have over-spread the church of Christ first arose, we should find that in a great measure they flowed from the same fountain, ignorance of the word of God.

Our blessed Lord, though he was the eternal God, yet as man he made the scriptures his constant rule and guide. And therefore, when he was asked by the lawyer, which was the great commandment of the law, he referred him to his Bible for an answer, ‘What readest thou?’ And thus, when led by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil, he repelled all his assaults with ‘it is written.’

A sufficient confutation this, of their opinion who say, ‘the Spirit only and not the Spirit by the Word, is to be our rule of action.’ If so, our Saviour, who had the Spirit without measure, needed not always have referred to the written word.

But how few copy after the example of Christ? How many are there who do not regard the word of God at all but throw the sacred oracles aside, as an antiquated book, fit only for illiterate men?

Such do greatly err, not knowing what the scriptures are. I shall, therefore, first, show that it is everyone’s duty to search them. And secondly, lay down some directions for you to search them with advantage.

Read the rest of Whitefield’s sermon today!


To view the Magazine as a PDF {Click Here}

We live in a day when those in the church want to have their ears tickled. We do not want a sermon, but a “talk.” “Don’t get preachy, preacher!” is the mantra of many church goers today. What is preferred is a casual, comfortable, and laid back chat with a cup of coffee and a couple of Bible verses to throw into the mix to make sure things get spiritual. One wonders whether Timothy would have been fired as a pastor today for heeding Paul’s advice: “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2). Paul gives such a command to Timothy because he knew what was to come. “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim. 4:3-4). Has that day come? Are churches filled with “itching ears,” demanding “teachers to suit their own passions”? Have we turned “away from listening to the truth”?

In a day when ears itch and truth is shown the back door, what could be more needed than men who actually preach the Word? George Whitefield (1714-1770) was one of those men. He was a preacher who preached in plain language, so that even the most common man could understand God’s Word. Yet, his sermons were incredibly powerful, often leading men and women to tears as the Holy Spirit convicted their souls. Whitefield not only preached the truth, but he pleaded with his listeners to submit themselves body and soul to the truth. He preached God’s Word with passion because he understood that his listener stood between Heaven and Hell. His robust Calvinism, in other words, led to a zealous evangelism.

This year, 2014, marks the 300th anniversary of Whitefield’s birth. These articles are meant to drive us back to Whitefield’s day, that we might eat up his theology, and drink deeply his passion for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Contributors include: Thomas Kidd, Lee Gatiss, Michael A.G. Haykin, Thomas Nettles, Ian Hugh Clary, Mike McKinley, Mark Noll, Doug Sweeney, and many others.

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Sunday’s Sermon (Schreiner, Barrett, Zaspel)

Posted by on Oct 13, 2014 in Sunday's Sermon | 4 Comments
Sunday’s Sermon (Schreiner, Barrett, Zaspel)

Three of Credo Magazine’s main contributors include Thomas Schreiner, Fred Zaspel, and Matthew Barrett. Each of them are professors, but they are also pastors. So each Monday morning we will be highlighting their “Sunday’s Sermon” on the blog to provide you with encouragement throughout the week and an opportunity to study God’s Word.

 

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