Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Gifts for the serious Christian reader

Still need a Christmas present for a thoughtful Christian in your family or circle of friends? Let me suggest a few. On Sunday I mentioned John Owen's master-work equipping Christians to fight sin well: Overcoming Sin and Temptation. Similar, but more accessible, is Ralph Venning's The Sinfulness of Sin. Both are unparalleled in helping us understand sin, hate it and go after it to put it to death.

In the world of theology, some excellent books have been written this year. Two 2011 books I would highly recommend are Michael Horton's The Christian Faith. It is similar to Wayne Grudem's famous work but more integrated and personally written. Greg Beale also recently released A New Testament Biblical Theology. Beale's work, more than any other, has shaped my understanding of Revelation and how Old and New Testament eschatology fit together. I just started this book and am loving it.

Finally, if your friend loves books about the Cross and the gospel, let me recommend George Smeaton's The Apostle's Doctrine of the Atonement. Smeaton was a Scotch theologian in the 19th century and plumbed the depths of the atonement themes in the New Testament more than any other I've seen. If you don't take my recommendation for it, just consider that this is Jerry Bridges' favorite book. Enough said.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Prophetic interpretive clues

Last Sunday's presentation of the picture of covenant blessing poured out on and through God's people in Micah four may have presented a new way of reading Bible prophecy for some of you. Though we may initially be inclined to interpret the image of a more glorious Temple (4:1), for instance, in terms of a literal, future building in the Middle East, reading such prophecies covenantally reveals a much richer fulfillment not only through Israel's return from the exile but also Christ's first and second comings as well as the ministry and mission of the church.

In his commentary on Micah, Bruce Waltke provides six interpretive clues for helping us understand and apply Old Testament prophecies of covenantal blessing. Hopefully, you'll find them helpful in your own study of Old Testament prophecy.

1. The NT taught that such prophecies found their fulfillment in Christ and His church (Luke 24:44, Acts 3:24, I Peter 1:10, etc.)

2. Prophets represent the new age under the symbols of the old age. Prophecies about events prior to Pentecost find a material fulfillment. With Christ's ascension from earth to heaven and the outpouring of his Holy Spirit from heaven to earth, and with the transformation of his body from an earthly physical body to a heavenly spiritual body, the earthly material symbols were done away and the spiritual reality portrayed by the symbols superseded the earthly shadows.

3. The plain, normal meaning of Old Testament worship primarily had in view the eternal heavenly realities behind the symbols. For example, the tabernacle was a pattern of the heavenly (Exodus 25:9, Hebrews 8:5) and through the pattern the priestly nation participated in the heavenly. In light of such passages as John 4:21-24, the Christian will set little value on the geography and regard it as a cultural adornment to a deeper and universal truth.

4. When Christ lowered heaven to earth, first at his advent and then at Pentecost, the otiose [obsolete] symbols were forever done away, leaving the reality unveiled - which was so much greater than the symbol (Hebrews 8:13, 9:26, 10:9).

5. To show the exceeding greatness of the future, the prophets supercharged the old symbols with larger-than-life imagery.

6. There is a temporal multidimensionality to these prophecies. They embrace a beginning of fulfillment in Israel's restoration from the exile, a victorious fulfillment in the church age stretching from Christ's first advent to his second coming and a consummation in the eschatological new heaven and new earth when Christ's Kingdom becomes coextensive with creation. [Some would add a future, Millennial reign of Christ and His church to these dimensions of biblical fulfillment].

- Bruce Waltke, MICAH, 678-679

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Learning to fight well

In Romans 6:12 Paul says that based on Christ's death and resurrection in our place we have both the power and incentive to make double war against sin and temptation. He writes, "Let not sin, therefore, reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions."

All of us can think of temptations which seem to dog us, enticing us to sin against God again and again. We may make some show of sorrow, regret and resolve not to do it again, but often, before we know it, we're back embracing that hateful sin.
According to the Puritan theologian, John Owen, our weak warfare, in part, lies in the fact that we fail to war against the very root of the sin. He writes,
"A man may beat down the bitter fruit from an evil tree until he is weary; while the root abides in strength and vigor, the beating down of the present fruit will not hinder [the tree] from bringing forth more fruit. This is the folly of some men; they set themselves with all earnestness and diligence against the appearing eruption of lust, but, leaving the principle and root untouched, perhaps searched out, they make but little or no progress in this work of [sin] mortification [i.e. killing]." - Of The Mortification of Sin, p. 76.
What kind of war are you making against the lusts of your mind, heart and flesh today? Are you merely going after the superficial fruit (e.g. resolving to stay away from Christmas goodies for fear of gluttony or the movie theater for fear of mental lust), or are you going to the root of your temptations (confessing your deep-seated rage at not being God and not having a world which revolves around your self-gratification)? In our fight against sin, let's target the source, make war against the root and apply theological herbicide to the temptations which lure us from the heart of God.