Throwback Thursday: Brian Walsh on the Postmodern Problem with Grand Stories

Throwback ThursdayChristianity is a story. That’s because the Bible is a story. One big, rich story spanning thousands of years. In my experience teaching and explaining the grand story of Scripture, I have noticed how much this excites children and teenagers. They love to trace the story. They love when I am about to teach a passage of Scripture and ask, “So, where are we in the big story?” The story of Scripture is one of glorious and grand redemption. God’s redemption of sinners through Christ for his glory is the primary theme of the story carried out from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22. Realizing this will transform the way you read the Bible forever.

But while this truth brings me (and truly nearly every person I have taught) much joy, many postmoderns are repelled by this metanarrative. Far too often, evangelicals are ignorant of secular worldviews. It is important to consider what the secular culture believes, so we can intelligently engage their positions and meet them where they are with the gospel. While the secular worldview has gone beyond even the postmodernism of the late 20th century, much of the secular worldview today can still be described as postmodern in nature. Why is the grand story of Scripture repugnant to the secular culture? In a book written in 1996, Brian Walsh gave a compelling answer.

Postmodern culture is deeply suspicious of all grand stories. Again, The Smashing Pumpkins prove to be insightful in this regard. In their infinitely sad song, “tales of a scorched earth,” they sing, “we’re all dead yeah we’re all dead/inside the future of a shattered past.” We live inside the future of a shattered past because that “past” told grand stories of Marxist utopia, technological freedom, or capitalist paradise. Yet we have come to see not only that these stories are unfinished, but that they are also fundamentally unfinishable, for the simple reason that they are fundamentally lies. The postmodern ethos insists that stories such as these that have so shaped our lives are not stories of emancipation and progress after all, but stories of enslavement, oppression and violence. And on such a view, any story, any world view, that makes grand claims about the real course and destiny of history will be perceived as making common cause with such violence and oppression. This characteristic of the postmodern shift is, I think, the most challenging to Christian faith. If there is one thing that Christianity is all about it is a grand story. How else can we interpret the cosmic tale of creation, fall, redemption and consummation that the Scriptures tell? Yet it is precisely this story that we must tell in a postmodern culture. In the face of dissolution of all grand stories, Christians have the audacity to proclaim, week after week, the liberating story of God’s redemption of all creation. It is, we insist, the one story that actually delivers on what it promises.

And that is the difference between the metanarrative of Scripture and the metanarratives of other ideologies and worldviews: The grand story of Scripture delivers on what it promises. Let’s not fail to continue to tell this story and pray that those we share it with find themselves in it as the people God has redeemed for his glory and our joy.

11751958_1209158262442953_3486622930933138849_nMathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor of Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. They have one son, Jude Adoniram. You can follow Mathew on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.

Morning Mashup 09/28


Injury Interrupted My Idolatry – From time to time, Desiring God will feature an article written by a professional athlete. They are always profound for me. This piece from NBA player Landry Fields is no different. Fantastic perspective.

3 Ways to Teach Your Kids to Pray for the Persecuted Church – Great post from Ruth Ripken on how to get your kids thinking and praying about persecuted believers.

Sex Belongs to Believers – John Piper: “The pleasures of sex are meant for believers. They are designed for their greatest expression by the children of God. He saves his richest gifts for his children. And as we enjoy his gift of sex, we say, by our covenant faithfulness to our spouse, that God is greater than sex.”

Springtime for Liberal Christianity – Typical excellent cultural and religious analysis from Ross Douthat.

The Cosby Conversation We’re Still Not Having – Thabiti Anyabwile: “What we are not discussing is how to prevent the many Cosbys in our homes, families, friendship networks, schools and churches from preying upon our daughters, sisters, and mothers.”

Don’t Hide Behind “The Gospel” – Barnabas Piper: “Only when we can make the connection between the gospel and the centuries of racial inequality in the United States, the lasting impact on our government and social structures, and the insidious and subtle effects on our own minds and hearts is it a solution.”

The Eight Kinds of Commenters in the Christian Blogosphere – Excellent analysis of commenters on Christian blogs. I’ve experienced each of these. My favorite is the “heresy hunter.” They are so pleasant.

Why I Am a Complementarian – “It seems to me that on a very base level the problem of the feminist movement and the patriarchy movement, and indeed sin itself, is principally a lack of trust. We have, from the very beginning, been attempting to wrench what was not given in the search of what was labeled off limits.”

Why Students Hate School Lunches – Just one of many stellar pieces in the Sunday Review section of the NY Times this week. I love this line: “Consider that in France, where the childhood obesity rate is the lowest in the Western world, a typical four-course school lunch (cucumber salad with vinaigrette, salmon lasagna with spinach, fondue with baguette for dipping and fruit compote for dessert) would probably not pass muster under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, because of the refined grains, fat, salt and calories. Nor would the weekly piece of dark chocolate cake.”

Papelbon, Harper Fight Highlights Nationals’ Deep Problems – The dugout fight between Nationals teammates Jonathan Papelbon and Bryce Harper has sparked much debate in the sports world. Personally, I agree with Papelbon’s principle, but not with his methods. Harper may be a NL MVP frontrunner, but he has a lot to learn.

The Art of Conversation – Tips for how men should engage in conversation.

42 Things We Learned from Week 3 – It usually takes a few weeks to gauge how the NFL season will go. Here is what we know after three weeks.

Spieth’s Stellar PGA Season – Young Jordan Spieth’s spectacular season broken down. I don’t think he’s the next Tiger, but the dude can play.

For us to be in love with ourselves is idolatry. For God not to be in love with himself is idolatry. –Zane Pratt

Quick Quotes: 10 Quotes from “Captivated” by Thabiti Anyabwile

Q-train-logoEvery Friday, I plan to share select quotes from a book I am either currently reading or have previously read. Few things have impacted my faith and life as much as reading has. This will be just one way I promote books and reading. These articles will be for the dedicated reader who loves to gain insight from as many books as possible. They will also be for the Christian looking for new books to read. I am always on the lookout for new books to read. Hopefully some things I share will lead you to pick up a new book. Finally, these articles will be for those of you too busy to read. Hopefully these quick quotes will provide you with easy access to books you would otherwise not have time to read. Each article will include a brief discussion of the author and his work followed by ten (or more) pertinent quotes from the book.

I seem to always be looking for books that are just hard to find. I really enjoy biblical commentaries, but would love to find some that are helpful for devotional style reading without forsaking robustness. They are hard to find. I also love concise theological works that may not address all the issues on a topic, but lay out the basics in a biblically and theologically rich manner. There are a few of these, but they are still difficult to track down.

One reason I love these concise theological works is that they are so helpful for non-believers and new Christians. I am always looking for books to pass along to curious non-believers and new converts. While John Frame and Wayne Grudem have written two of the best systematic theologies in the last 50 years, I would prefer a new Christian’s first look at Christian theology to be a little lighter than 1000 pages. Finding concise theological works is great for discipling children and youth as well. While even these shorter works are often too deep for most children, many teenagers can tackle them, especially in a group setting.

J.I. Packer’s Concise Theology is an excellent choice. It is the go-to work I pass along to new Christians and curious non-believers. It is comprehensive and gives a solid and trustworthy overview of Christian theology from a Reformed perspective. But for non-believers and new Christians, I believe it’s best to read one of these concise works on a particular topic: the person and work of Christ. Bruce Ware’s The Man Christ Jesus is helpful here. But one of the best short theological works on the death and resurrection of Jesus, specifically in the last few years, is Captivated: Beholding the Mystery of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection, written by Thabiti Anyabwile.

81HvEVm8fJLCaptivated is a short and steady meditation on the death and resurrection of Jesus. Anyabwile’s goal is for readers to “behold His face and be satisfied as we’re changed from one degree of glory to another in Him.” To be captivated by anything, we must gaze and behold the beauty of a thing. This is exactly what Anyabwile does in Captivated. He helps readers gaze into the beauty of Christ and behold him as an all-satisfying treasure.

If you are a non-Christian considering the claims of Christianity, a new believer, or a longtime believer, Captivated will help clarify your mind and captivate your soul to the heart of the Christian faith. Here are ten quotes to get you started:

1. Only Jesus ends the war between God and man with a peaceful solution. If Jesus does not go to the cross, then God will win the war with a final and terrible judgment against man for his sin. Sinners cannot fight God and win. Having Jesus as our Mediator is the only way for us to be reconciled to God.

2. God’s greatest motivation for all His actions is the revelation of His glory in the universe.

3. The only perfect Father found occasion to deny the only perfect Son because such denial achieved the only perfect goals: a perfectly qualified high priesthood, reconciliation through the only God-man Mediator, loving atonement for the sins of men, the vindication of the Father’s righteousness, and the ever-redounding glory of the Father in the Son and the Son in the Father.

4. Gethsemane’s silent answer rings eternally in the loud joyous praises of the universe.

5. But on that dark midday on Golgotha, when the sun refused to shine, the unimaginable and indescribable happened. That beautiful, shining, loving face of the Father withdrew into the dark, frowning, punishing face of wrath.

6. Death is dead. Jesus destroyed it in His death and resurrection. It was impossible that death should ever have victory over the Author of life.

7. Life lived in light of the resurrection includes radical sacrifices in faith.

8. The death, burial, and resurrection free us from having to keep the law in order to be reconciled with and justified before God.

9. The resurrection turns us from law-keeping to gospel-believing and from self-righteousness to an alien righteousness in Jesus Christ. It turns us from trying to earn God’s love by our good deeds to freely accepting God’s love as a gift through faith in His Son.’

10. Only one infallible way of knowing the truth about who Jesus really is and the power of His resurrection exists. We must have our eyes opened by God.

11751958_1209158262442953_3486622930933138849_nMathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor of Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. They have one son, Jude Adoniram.

Leaning on the Promises of God: 3 Ways to Apply God’s Promises to Your Life

rainbow-god-promisesHow many of us believe the promises of God are true, but see no fruit of this belief in our lives? I think there is a common disconnect between assenting to the promises of God and trusting the promises of God. Trust or belief in the biblical sense of the words are inextricably tied to action. We believe, so we act on that belief. Any faith that does not result in a changed life where actions and works are altered is worthless.

While the promises of God are far from empty, I wonder if our belief in them is. American Christians are far better off than the majority of people who have ever lived, and yet we probably worry more than any other society in the history of the world. Worry, discontent, and fear of losing our comforts mark many Americans today, Christians included. What would happen if Christians truly trusted the promises of God?

Puritan William Spurstowe (1605-1666), an English pastor and member of the Westminster Assembly, wrote a beautiful work entitled, The Wells of Salvation Opened. In it, he discusses the promises of God and our response to them. He warns that we should not rest in “a general faith, which goes no further than to give a naked assent unto the promises of the Gospel as true; but does not put forth itself to receive and embrace them as good.” True faith works. It doesn’t just mentally assent to the truth of something. It receives and embraces the truth or reality or Person as good. True faith is a work of the heart. Yes, our minds are definitely (crucially) involved. But without the heart’s affections being moved to delight in a thing as good, faith is absent or false.

Why is it crucial then for a Christian to truly trust the promises of God with his whole being and not just mentally assent to their truth? In the gospel, God has promised to rescue, redeem, and secure sinners from death unto life in Christ. We receive this promise through faith in Christ, but there are many who only assent with their minds without ever acting on their faith in Christ (See Acts 8:13, 23; John 2:23; Matt. 25:11). In each of these examples, God’s promises are believed to be true, but not embraced as good.

Trusting the promises of God produces sweet fruit. Mere assent to the truth of the promises of God produces a bitter and barren life. Trusting God’s promises is the building blocks for a solid and firm stance in the face of sin and suffering. Mere assent to the promises of God is like standing on shifting sand on the brink of a storm. When it comes, you will be swept away in its floods.

How do we practically trust the promises of God? How do we apply them to the messiness of every day life? What do the promises of God in the gospel mean for the stay-at-home mom, the CEO, the teacher, the 5th grader, the college student, and the pastor? How can each of these people apply God’s promises on a daily basis?

A critical word from Spurstowe is helpful here:

When a Christian first turns his thoughts towards the promises, the appearances of light and comfort which shine from them do oft-times seem to be as weak and imperfect rays which neither scatter fears nor darkness; [but] when again he sets himself to ripen and improve his thoughts upon them, then the evidence and comfort which they yield to the soul, is both more clear and distinct but when the heart and affections are fully fixed in the meditation of a promise, Oh! what a bright mirror is the promise then to the eye of faith! What legions of beauties do then appear from every part of it which both ravish and fill the soul of a believer with delight!

Spurstowe beautifully describes the Christian’s experience with the promises of God. At first they seem too good to be true, so distant they can do us no good. But spending more time with them, like sitting by the fireplace, will warm our hearts with indescribable comfort. To think, that when I sin against God even after being found in Christ, condemnation is not consigned to me because God promised “Therefore, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). To think, when I am abandoned by everyone around me finding enemies on every side, love everlasting kisses my face and embraces my soul because God promised nothing will separate me from his love (Rom. 8:31-39).

What if we truly trusted the promises of God? Our lives would be radically impacted. Our view of the world would gain much needed perspective. We would never look at our circumstances the same. We wouldn’t fall into despair, because leaning on his promises means a Pauline sorrowful joy is existentially possible. Don’t live life independently from the promises of God. Take them with you wherever you go. Where them around your neck and cling to them when the waves of life crash against you. Don’t just know the promises of God are true, apply the promises to your life.

How can we practically trust and apply the promises of God on a daily basis? I believe there are three ways we can do this:

1. Know the Promises of God

While we can’t end with mental assent, we must begin there. Know the promises of God. This requires pointed and intentional Bible reading. Read the Bible every day and you will encounter many direct and indirect promises to wield in the daily fight for joy.

2. Meditate on the Promises of God

It isn’t enough to have a list of Bible verses of God’s promises. In order to know how to apply them in your particular life setting you must meditate on them. Think deeply about these promises. What are their implications? What are you going through that requires dependence on this or that promise? Fix your mind on God’s promises in such a way that the promise is turned into “a strengthening and reviving cordial.”

3. Memorize the Promises of God

A very practical way to apply the promises is not only to know and meditate on them but to commit them to memory. According to Spurstowe, we should commit specific passages to memory for specific trials we may face. Scripture memory isn’t just an activity for children’s ministry. It is a weapon used to attack the powers of darkness in this world. It is a means of grace to fight for joy in the midst of sorrow.

When life creates hunger, feeding on the Word will provide satisfaction and spiritual nourishment unlike anything else. Act with faith in the promises of God and you will be radically transformed and freed to live and love to the glory of God in all circumstances.

Oh! how securely and contentedly then may a believer, who acts with faith in such promises, lay himself down in the bosom of the Almighty in the worst of all his extremities! Not much unlike the infant that sleeps in the arms of his tender mother with the breast in his mouth, from which, as soon as ever it wakes, it draws a fresh supply that satisfies his hunger, and prevents its unquietness.

11751958_1209158262442953_3486622930933138849_nMathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor of Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. They have one son, Jude Adoniram.

Review: Same-Sex Marriage

51KJMtvSkoLSean McDowell and John Stonestreet. Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2014. 176 pp. $9.99 on Amazon

The gay rights movement has been picking up speed over the past few decades, but in the past five years, the gloves have come off and a minority movement in America received what seems to be a decisive victory in the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision, which strikes down state bans on same-sex marriage. While this decision was not necessarily the legalization of so-called same-sex marriage, it was a historic decision, which declared any bans on such unions as unconstitutional. Summer 2015 changed the landscape of American culture forever.

We have already seen the predicted tension between the Obergefell decision and religious liberty in such persons as Rowan County (KY) clerk Kim Davis, as well as the legal nightmare of further lawsuits on similar ground from those in polyamorous relationships.

Further, more than a shift and genesis of cultural breakdown, we are seeing Christians faced with a crisis of faith. Public perception of Christians who do not accept the status quo when it comes to so-called same-sex marriage is increasingly negative and hostile. Christians opposing same-sex marriage are being lumped together historically with those who opposed the civil rights movement.

So, what are Christians to do? How are we to respond? Some have simply jumped ship. Christianity clearly declares same-sex marriage isn’t even a thing, so some have come to realize they want no part of the church. Others have tried to steer the ship in a different direction. They have mutinously overthrown the Captain and steered the ship of the faith where they want it to go. For some like Matthew Vines this has meant trying to exegete the legitimacy of monogamous same-sex relationships. For others it has simply meant fleeing biblical inerrancy for a preference-based hermeneutic. But all honest and thinking Christians have had to discuss and wrestle with how to speak to this issue with biblical conviction and winsome rhetoric.

For conservative, Bible-believing evangelicals (I wish this distinction was unnecessary. I mean, what is a non-Bible-believing evangelical, anyway?) Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet have provided a helpful, intelligent, and engaging resource for thinking and talking through the issue of so-called same-sex marriage. With many possible rabbits to chase in this argument, the authors tactfully keep the discussion fixed on the most crucial question in this debate.

What is marriage? That is the question. Gay rights advocates try to create similarities with the civil right s movement, but this avoids the question. McDowell and Stonestreet strike this erroneous comparison down with an intelligent, yet swift stroke. Their argumentation is worth quoting at length.

A male of one ethnicity and a female of another can become in every sense that a couple of the same ethnicity can. And an interracial sexual union is ordered toward procreation and can abide by the same standards of exclusivity and permanence. Bans on interracial marriages wrongfully discriminated against actual marriages.

But same-sex couples cannot procreate nor can they become ‘one’ in the same sense opposite couples can. Thus, maintaining marriage as the union of one man and one woman is wrongful discrimination only if it can be demonstrated that the revisionist definition of marriage is the right one. If the conjugal view is correct, same-sex couples can’t actually be married. Claiming discrimination assumes a new definition of marriage as proof for the new definition. It’s circular reasoning (61-62).

In all of their refutations of revisionist arguments, the authors return to the crucial question: what is marriage? For the authors, the definition of marriage is entirely shaped by the Bible. They claim “marriage was designed by God to thoroughly join two image bearers in a permanent commitment, enabling them to fulfill their purpose of filling and forming God’s world” (44). The biblical view of marriage inherently fuels sexual ethics, which speaks to the heart of the revisionist definitions of marriage.

An interestingly crucial aspect of the authors’ argument is that marriage is designed for child bearing. Why is marriage a necessary institution for society? Feeding off of Maggie Gallagher, the authors say there are three “obviously true facts about the world that make the institution of marriage necessary: ‘Sex makes babies. Society needs babies. Babies deserve mothers and fathers’” (44). The authors argue that the design of marriage is for child bearing and child rearing—two things that are absolutely crucial to societal sustenance. Does every act of sex bring forth children? Is sex only for procreation? No. But the basic design of sex is for child bearing.

Even more than this, the authors believe “societies have a vested interest in supporting environments that best rears children” (45). They then reference various sociological studies that show children flourish best when they are raised by their biological mothers and fathers. Same-sex marriage inherently refutes all of this research. It says babies do not necessarily need mothers or fathers.

McDowell and Stonestreet intelligently and compellingly make their argument for traditional marriage while refuting same-sex marriage through focusing on the simple question: what is marriage? They show that marriage is not just about feelings of love, which is the primary cry of the same-sex marriage movement. Marriage has much deeper ties to society than this. So, not just from a biblical perspective, but also from historical and sociological perspectives, same-sex marriage is culturally arrogant.

While the authors’ reasoning is clear and concise, they also speak with a careful and practical tone. The first half of the book is a critique of the revisionist view of marriage, while defining marriage and showing its biblical and sociological implications. The second half of the book is a practical discussion of what Christians can and should do in the face of the apparent victory of same-sex marriage. So the first half asks and answers: what is marriage. The second half asks and answers: what should we do?

“The impulse to flee from culture, even for noble causes like staying away from evil or preserving the relevance of the gospel, tempts the Church in every generation” (81-82). One thing we cannot do is remain silent. Hiding in the bushes while the culture radically shifts is beneath a Christian committed to the universal lordship of Jesus Christ. We must not only stand for how God has defined marriage, but we must provide an example to our society of what marriage is. The role of the church as a bastion and pillar of truth is to provide a vision of marriage that counters the culture.

So we must speak and act with biblical integrity and consistency when it comes to marriage. But we also must repent where necessary. Let’s be honest. The church hasn’t historically extended a loving ear to hear the concerns and struggles of the gay community. We have at times responded with hatred that isn’t consistent with the Savior we follow. McDowell and Stonestreet ask, “Might it be possible to maintain our convictions about homosexual behavior and same-sex unions while building bridges instead of walls?” (104).

Same-Sex Marriage belongs in the hands of every pastor. Pastoral staff and elders need to work through this book as it provides philosophical principles for thinking through the arguments of same-sex marriage while also offering a practical paradigm for addressing the issue on a daily and weekly basis in the life of the church.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

11751958_1209158262442953_3486622930933138849_nMathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert

The Sovereign Giver: Brief Reflections on 1 Thessalonians 1:1-3

giftsWe all have received gifts on special occasions, like birthdays and Christmas. When we receive special gifts it is easy for us to focus on the gift, but forget the giver of the gift. Too many times we forget to say, “Thank you.” When you were a kid, how many times did your parents have to remind you, “Say thank you” when you receive a gift from a friend? While it isn’t polite to just receive a gift without saying thank you, think about how crazy it is for us to receive so much from God and forget to say, “Thank you, Lord.”

Paul opens his letter to the Thessalonians by thanking God for them. He says that he prays for them constantly or without ceasing (v. 2). This means he makes a habit of praying, and when he prays he always mentions this church in his prayers. He then gives his reasons for why he is thankful to God in verse 3. He says he prays for them always “remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 3). Paul is saying, “I thank God for you because of your faith, love, and hope.”

Why is Paul thanking God if it is the Thessalonian Christians who are the ones doing the work? They are the ones with the “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope.” Yet, Paul gives thanks to God in his prayers for what these Christians are doing. Why? He does this because the faith, love, and hope of the Thessalonian Christians were gifts from God. It is impossible for us to have true faith, love, or hope without God working in our hearts first.

Without Christ being faithful to God in his life, we could not have faith. Without the Father first loving us, we could not truly love God and others. Without the Spirit giving life to our dead hearts, we would have no hope. When we trust Jesus for salvation, we need to see it as a gift from God and thank him for it. When we grow in love for God and others, we need to see it as a gift from God and thank him. When we have confidence in God even when bad things happen, we need to see it as a gift from God and thank him for it.

Faith, love, and hope are not just marks of a Christian. They are gifts for the Christian. What did we do to deserve these gifts? This is the crazy part. We did nothing to deserve these gifts. Absolutely nothing! In fact, we deserve the opposite of these gifts because of our sin. If God were like Santa Claus, giving us gifts based on who is naughty or nice, we wouldn’t receive anything because we are all naughty. But God is better than Santa Claus. In Christ, he offers us unbelievable gifts not based on how good we are, but on how good he is.

11751958_1209158262442953_3486622930933138849_nMathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.

Morning Mashup 09/11


30 Tips for New Seminary Students – As a new seminary student, I greatly appreciated this advice.

Our Addiction to Doubt – Excellent stuff from Barnabas Piper on a topic he knows and writes on well. “Doubt can lead us deeper into truth and can keep us humble, but it is no place to reside. Our addiction to it has put premium value on vagaries and feelings.”

The Problem with Republican Tax Plans – Rubio, Paul, and now Bush have communicated their proposed tax plans if elected president. While they each have merits worth considering, it will be the same old story for Democratic rebuttal.

Stephen Colbert Reading Flannery O’Connor – Sit with a friend and listen to Colbert read a short story written by Flannery O’Connor. This is fantastic.

10 Questions for Rule of Law Critics of Kim Davis – Joe Rigney joins the fray of varying voices from Christian thinkers and leaders on the Kim Davis-religious liberty issue.

Meet the ‘Dones’ – An interesting new demographic is on the rise. We have met the “Nones,” those who have rejected all religious affiliation. But now we have the “Dones,” those who have led in the church and now want no part of it.

This is the Best of Times and the Worst of Times – Classic Piper. This is just too good not to share.

The Powerful Effect of Pregnancy Resource Centers – Joe Carter shows us the positive stats pro-life Christians should be aware of: “One PRC network, Care Net, reports that in 2014 eighty percent of women (388,691) who visited their centers and who were at risk for abortion chose life.”

6 Reasons Church is Not Optional for Seminary Students – Hershael York with wise counsel for seminary students and their relationship to the local church.

Why Judicial Supremacy Isn’t Compatible with Constitutional Supremacy – “The courts can get the Constitution wrong; if they could not, there would be no point to justices’ trying to get it right by reasoning about the Constitution.”

9/11 Memorials and Tributes – Here is a list of all the events scheduled to mark and memorialize the 14th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

God suffered to end evil without ending us –Tim Keller

Throwback Thursday: Francis Turretin on the Love of God

Throwback ThursdayGod is love (1 John 4:8). This simple, yet profound sentence is a crucial basis for Christianity. The apostle John makes a crucial distinction. He doesn’t say, “God loves” or “God has love,” but rather, “God is love.” Love is inherent to God. It is part of who he is. Spend any amount of time meditating on the love of God and the sin of man and you should glow in gratitude for God’s love. It is clear that no one deserves God’s love, yet the God who is love has chosen to set his love upon his creation and specifically his people.

The God-is-love maxim has sinisterly become a defense for things that God in fact hates. God is love. So, how could he judge sin? God is love. So how could he oppose my autonomy? God is love. So how dare these “backwoods, fundamentalist” Christians tell me how I should live my life. God is love.

Our church culture has slowly taken a crucial doctrinal truth about the nature and character of God and turned it for its own favor. The church would do well to take God at his Word everywhere they find his Word, not just in places that suit their personal preferences. But the truth about God’s love is that it is not as simple as we want to make it. The love of God is beautifully complex. It is seen from before creation and seen in the fully consummated new creation, and everywhere in between. It is seen in his common graces showered on all of mankind, as well as his special graces shown only toward his people he has redeemed through Christ. God loves us before he creates us. God loves us as he creates us. God loves us when he recreates us. His love is tender and firm. It faces no barrier it cannot destroy. It faces no hurt it cannot heal. It faces no sinner it cannot change. From eternity past to eternity future, when God sets his love on you, it will never leave.

Theologian Francis Turretin clearly explains the complexities of God’s love as it is attested in Scripture in his Institutes of Elenctic Theology. He discusses three aspects of God’s love–benevolence, beneficence, and complacency. Here, Turretin examines how God loves us first and then loves us because of his work in our lives, which includes our response. Meditate on the complex glory and goodness of God’s love as you marvel at why he would ever set it on sinners like you and me from eternity past to eternity future.

A threefold love of God is commonly held; or rather there are three degrees of one and the same love. First, there is the love of benevolence by which God willed good to the creature from eternity; second, the love of beneficence by which he does good to the creature in time according to his good will; third, the love of complacency by which he delights himself in the creature on account of the rays of his image seen in them. The two former precede every act of the creature; the latter follows (not as an effect its cause, but as a consequent its antecedent). By the love of benevolence, the love of complacency, he loves us when we are (renewed after his image). By the first, he elects us; by the second, he redeems and sanctifies us; but by the third, he gratuitously rewards us as holy and just. John 3:16 refers to the first; Ephesians 5:25 and Revelation 1:5 to the second; Isaiah 62:3 and Hebrews 11:6 to the third.

11751958_1209158262442953_3486622930933138849_nMathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.

The God Who Suffers to Set Things Right

Question-About-Suffering1One of the biggest questions that we all must face in life is the meaning of suffering, if any meaning even exists at all. No one can escape the clutches of suffering. It is a mutual enemy we all must face in one form or another at one time or another. The presence of evil and suffering remains one of the primary philosophical reasons people reject Christianity. Theism doesn’t necessarily have to be rejected, because in Deism, God is not personal, so it is likely he could create a world of chaos and step back to let it destroy itself. This just wouldn’t be a god anyone would want to know.

In my conversations with non-Christian friends, particularly millennials, I am more and more hearing things like this: “Sure, God may exist, but if he creates a world where such horrible suffering is possible, then I want no part of him.” So, adopting Christian presuppositions, they are saying they don’t want God on his terms. Of course, the problem is they are only seeing half of the story.

We can all admit there is something horribly wrong with this world. But many of us fail to see that much of what is wrong with the world is found within our own hearts. So when we sneer at God for not just eliminating suffering and evil once and for all, we fail to see two things.

First, we fail to see that in order for God to completely wipe out suffering and evil, he would have to wipe all of us out! The sad and scary truth is that we are naïve if we think we are not capable of committing horrible atrocities.

Second, we fail to see that God in fact has acted to completely wipe out suffering and evil through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ. In fact, he used suffering and evil to eliminate suffering and evil. But no, he goes even further. God doesn’t just use suffering and evil. God absorbs suffering and evil in order to eliminate suffering and evil. A God who suffers for you is a God you can trust in the mystery of suffering and evil.

There is something horribly wrong with the world. How can we reconcile the existence of a personal, good, and sovereign God with senseless evil and suffering? The Christian worldview, otherwise known as the gospel, teaches that God comes into this messed up world and suffers at the hands of evil men in order to set things right.

There is a great scene in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s classic novel The Brothers Karamazov in which two of the characters are talking about the dreaded and pervasive reality of suffering. Dostoyevsky was a Christian, and he uses this conversation and the words of Ivan specifically to communicate how Christianity speaks to suffering:

I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood that they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.

Only the Christian worldview can communicate such real, vivid, and existential hope in the face of great suffering. Suffering is only justifiable if, in the words of Tolkien, “every sad thing comes untrue.” Because of Christ, every sad thing will come untrue. Every evil will be swallowed up in the goodness of Christ. Every suffering will be eclipsed by the satisfaction of Christ.

11751958_1209158262442953_3486622930933138849_nMathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.

Like Shakespeare to Hamlet

Photo Credit | Shakespeare MIT
Photo Credit | Shakespeare MIT

Many times we are frustrated when God doesn’t interact with or respond to us the way we expect. The problem though is not with God, it is with us, or more specifically, the problem is with our expectations. We expect our relationship with God to be like our relationship with our best friend. Maybe more accurately, we expect our relationship with God to be like our relationship with ourselves. I wouldn’t do this to me, so why does God do it?

Others may require empirical evidence to believe in God. They do so because they require empirical evidence to believe in anything. The problem is they are applying the nature of their relationship with the world to their relationship with God. They expect to relate to God on the same terms as they relate to everything else. But God is unlike anything else in the world. He is beyond the world. He is before the world. And, lest we forget, he is the maker of the world. As children at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY will be learning tomorrow: God is the first and best of beings.

So we should not expect to relate to this God the way we would relate to anyone else. It is like traveling to space, not seeing God, and then concluding that he must not exist. It is like create an absolute assertion, such as “God would not let suffering and evil exist,” observing suffering and evil, and then concluding God mustn’t exist. C.S. Lewis argued that if God exists, we shouldn’t expect to relate to him the way a person on the first story of a house relates to a person on the second story. God isn’t just someone who lives “up there.” He isn’t merely “the man upstairs.” So, everything we know or could know about God isn’t left up to our empirical devices or investigative abilities. Our relationship with God is entirely dependent on God’s desire to relate to us–something he has no obligation to do.

We know as much about God as God wants us to know. My brother, Michael, has gained much insight from Tim Keller’s teaching that we are on need-to-know terms with God. So, questions that require information or explanation that we have not been given should be approached with humility and shouldn’t be a stumbling block to our faith. We are on a need-to-know basis with God. But what we need to know is fully supplanted and revealed by God in his Word.

If we do not relate to God empirically or in a way similar to our human-human interactions, how do we relate to him? Working from C.S. Lewis’s essay, “The Seeing Eye,” Tim Keller believes we relate to God the way Hamlet relates to Shakespeare.

Our relationship to God…is more like Shakespeare’s relationship to Hamlet. How much will Hamlet know about Shakespeare? Only what Shakespeare writes about himself into the play. Hamlet will never be able to find out anything about his author any other way. In the same way…we can’t find God just by going to higher altitudes. We’ll only know about God if God has written something about himself into our life, into our world. And he has (Encounters with Jesus, 55-56).

Keller then moves to show how the gospel works out of this relationship.

God looked into our world–the world he made–and saw us destroying ourselves and the world by turning away from him. It filled his heart with pain (Genesis 6:6). He loved us. He saw us struggling to extricate ourselves from the traps and misery we created for ourselves. And so he wrote himself in. Jesus Christ, the God-man, born in a manger, born to die on a cross for us (56-57).

Your relationship with God is not determined by your ability to discover him. It is based on God’s desire, resolve, and action to discover you. He writes himself into the story of the world. Without this initiative, we would know nothing about God. And worse, we would not know God. Praise God that though we could never find him no matter how hard we looked, he came and found us to bring us back to him.

11751958_1209158262442953_3486622930933138849_nMathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.