Engaging the World One Meal at a Time

Sharing our Lives
[Several weeks ago a friend asked me to share with a group of pastors on the topic of “engaging the world.” I presented some of the material below as a way to think big by thinking small. It also ties in well with my church’s summer focus launched yesterday on sharing our lives.]

What would it look like for evangelism to be something naturally spilling out of our lives rather than another ministry to-do we add to our calendar? What might be a way of creating a welcoming environment full of grace-growing relationships that also allows room for speaking the truth in love? One answer is the simple but biblical act of hospitality where we share our lives with people by sharing a meal with them. Jim Peterson (author of Living Proof: Sharing the Gospel Naturally) writes, “I know of no more effective environment for initiating evangelism than a dinner at home or in a quiet restaurant.”[1] I want to briefly talk about how we can engage the world one meal at a time.

There are three times the statement “the Son of Man came…” appears in the gospels.
1) He came not to be served but to serve, to give his life as a ransom for many (Mk. 10:45).
2) He came to seek and save the lost (Lk. 19:10).
3) He came eating and drinking (Lk. 7:34).

The importance of eating meals is a big part of Jesus’ ministry in all four gospels, but it’s especially a trademark of Luke’s gospel. One commentator says that in Luke Jesus is either having a meal, leaving a meal, or going to a meal. Here are some of the passages where food and meals are a part of Jesus’ ministry.

• Mark 2:13-17;Mt. 9:9-13; Lk. 5:27-32 (Jesus eats at Levi’s with tax collectors & sinners)
• Mark 6:30-44; Mt. 14:13-21; Lk. 9:10-17; Jn. 6:1-15 (Jesus feeds the 5,000)
• Mark 8:1-10 (Jesus feeds the 4,000)
• Matthew 11:19; Lk. 7:34 (The son of man came eating and drinking)
• Lk 24:30-35, 42-43; Jn 21:9-15 (Jesus breaks bread with those on Emmaus and eats fish breakfast with his disciples after the resurrection)
• Luke 7:36-50 (Jesus eats in the house of Simon the Pharisee and the “sinful woman” cries on his feet, wipes them with her hair, and anoints Jesus)
• Luke 10:38-42 (Jesus comes to the home of Mary and Martha)
• Luke 11:37-54 (Jesus eats with Pharisees, doesn’t wash before dinner, and pronounces woes) cf.: Mark 7:19-23
• Luke 14:1-24 (parables of wedding feast and parable of great banquet)
• Luke 15:1-2 (Jesus eats with sinners then gives 3 parables)
• Revelation 3:20 (Jesus stands at the door and knocks; he will come in and eat with us)
• Revelation 19:7-9 (Wedding feast of the lamb); cf Is. 25:6-9; Mt. 8:11

There’s a lot that I’d love to share on this topic but we’ll settle for looking at three simple things we see in the meal ministry of Jesus and just connect that to our worlds today.

1) Jesus didn’t require repentance in advance to eat with him—although that was his desired outcome.
Luke 15:1-2 “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear [Jesus]. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’”

We probably don’t realize just how staggering it was that Jesus ate with sinners. He received or welcomed those who were rejected by religious leaders. The Pharisees are so appalled because this is not the way things had always been done. Even in the OT, the purity and cleanliness laws were in many ways designed to draw boundaries that kept Israel away from others. The Pharisees took these even further and used meals and pre-meal washing to draw lines between the clean and the unclean, the religious and the sinners. The Pharisees would only eat with those who kept up with their strict oral laws.

When Jesus started eating with sinners it shocked everyone because he didn’t require repentance in advance or as a requirement for eating together.[2] He welcomed and received sinners, eating and drinking in their company. These tax collectors—who were seen as the enemies of the average Jew—and the “sinners” were probably as surprised as everyone else. All they were ever told was that they were the problem. They needed to get their act together and clean their lives up. No respectable person would associate with them. Just imagine how different and intriguing Jesus would have been to them. Here’s a respected rabbi and religious leader who’s kind to us, who eats with us, and talks with us around the table. They saw in Jesus grace embodied and they felt for the first time a welcoming invitation. No doubt this opened new doors for Jesus to speak truth into their lives.

Application
Following Jesus means we come to him by grace not by our works or performance. We don’t ask people to clean themselves up before they come to Jesus. We ask them to come to Jesus, the only one who can clean them up. This grace is embodied in beautiful ways in the welcoming nature of a meal. We bring others into our homes to love them, to get to know them, and to share our lives with them. And not because they’ve gotten their act together or changed their ways. Yes the goal in eating with them is that they might be drawn to God, but that is not the requirement in advance.

Opening our homes or even just eating with someone at a table is a gracious act because it puts all of us on the same level. You sit eye-to-eye and there’s no one better or worse at a table. When we eat with people it’s a way of saying, “I see you as a person just like me. You don’t have to earn your place at the table by saying you believe what I say or by cleaning up your act.” This act of grace will indeed open doors that otherwise would have remained shut.

2) Jesus thought his holiness was more contagious than the impurity of sinners.
Luke 5:29-32 “And Levi made [Jesus] a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’  And Jesus answered them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.’”

Jesus can welcome, eat, and talk with sinners because he’s not concerned about their sin rubbing off on him. He sees them as people and while the Pharisees are much more concerned about their reputation and façade of righteousness, Jesus rubs elbows with the unrighteous. The attitude of the Pharisees was to withdraw from anyone who didn’t look the part of a good Jew who kept the law. They weren’t concerned about a righteousness of the heart that leads to love but a righteous appearance and reputation.

The parallel passage to Luke 5 is Matthew 9. There Jesus says to the Pharisees, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” The word for “mercy” is the word for steadfast love and “sacrifice” represents religious observance. Jesus is getting in the face of the Pharisees who made their religious rules and outward appearances their concern, not a life of love towards others. Their distancing of people who didn’t measure up shows they’ve missed the point.

Jesus takes the opposite approach, which actually shows the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and just how un-god-like they were. Instead, he speaks with, touches, talks to, and even eats with all those people that the religious leaders ignored. Jesus doesn’t do this with an “I’m okay you’re okay” attitude that overlooks their sin and brokenness. He still calls these people to repentance and to discipleship. Craig Blomberg writes, “Jesus’ rationale for associating with the outcasts is simple: ‘he wishes to draw them to God.’ Yet he does not participate in their sinful behavior. As has become a pattern in his ministry, it is the lifestyle of discipleship, purity, and doing God’s will which Christ believes he can impart to others, rather than being contaminated by their impurity.”[3]

Part of why Jesus goes into homes and eats with them is because he knows his holiness and joy are more contagious than their sin. Their sin isn’t a like cold you catch by being too close to people. But, when they eat with Jesus, when they see how he loves them, when they hear his words of grace, when he tells them about God’s invitation to be made right with their God again, they hear the words of life and see grace in action.

Application 2
This is really why I think we can engage the world one meal at a time. One of the reasons I think that happens is because the home especially can give a taste of the kingdom of God. I don’t mean that they see a spotless house and want to be converted. It’s not that you have a perfect family where you and your wife never disagree and the kids are perfectly behaved. But, when unbelievers come into your home they will hopefully see a different world, an “alternative city” as Tim Keller says. They’ll see what it looks like to have a home where people love one another, laugh together, and like each other…all because the grace of God. Just imagine the potential for engaging our city if we thought by eating with unbelievers Jesus could rub off on them more than their sin would rub off on us.

3) Jesus comes to seek and save the lost, and therefore, he eats and drinks with the lost.
Luke 5:30-32 “ And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

Why does Jesus become the friend of sinners? Why does he eat with them, welcome them, and love them? He does this because he knows they are people in need, and they’re probably more aware of their need. He’s saying, don’t you get that I came to save the lost. The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost, and the Son of Man came eating and drinking because that’s where he befriended them.

Jesus uses the analogy of a doctor. What kind of doctor spends all of his time with healthy people or with other doctors? No, a doctor exists to spend time with and help the sick people, the ones who desperately are in need of the doctor’s skill and gift. Jesus in essence says, “I came to seek and save the lost, so of course I spend my time with and welcome the lost. I came for the very people you’ve rejected. I welcome them, I show them grace, I give them a taste of life with God in his kingdom, and I call them to follow me and experience what they were created for.”

This is in part why the Pharisees got so mad; because Jesus acts as if they should get down on the same level with these people. If you’ve seen the movie Patch Adams you might remember that the University Dean couldn’t stand Patch Adams and did everything he could to get him kicked out of medical school. The University Doctors cared about their prestige, about being known as a doctor, about keeping a healthy and professional distance from patients. Patch gets on their level, laughs with them and cries with them. People open up to Patch in new ways because he befriends them. There’s one moment where the Dean erupts in frustration after Patch asks why he’s so threatened: “We’re their doctors not friends. You want us to get down on their level.” The disconnect between Patch and the Dean is that Patch saw doctors existing for the patients so that’s who he spent his time with.

In Luke 5 Jesus is the doctor who spends his time with the sick people. He came to seek out the lost and the unrighteous, so that’s who he spends time with.

Application 3
My hope is that the application here is somewhat obvious. Church ministry can become so busy that sometimes we spend all of our time caring for one another. That should be a primary concern for us but we must also spend time with the lost. We don’t need a bunch of evangelism outreach events or new programs, just the gentle nudge to be in relationships with people who don’t know Jesus.

“Jesus didn’t run projects, establish ministries, create programs, or put on events. He ate meals. If you routinely share meals and you have a passion for Jesus, then you’ll be doing mission. It’s not that meals save people. People are saved through the gospel message. But meals will create natural opportunities to share that message in a context that resonates powerfully with what you’re saying.”[4]

Asking Ourselves the Tough Questions
What we’ve seen is that Jesus considers meals as essential to his ministry because that’s the place where he welcomes sinners in grace and speaks the truth in love. Jesus viewed the time around the table as a chance to build community, to embody grace, to engage the world, and to provide a taste of life with God.

It might hurt us and help us to ask ourselves a few questions. How are we doing when it comes to sharing our lives with the lost? Engaging the world is a lot easier if it means giving to a cause or serving in a ministry, but it’s risky when it means having strangers in your house and getting involved in the mess of someone’s life.

Are we doing this first with our own families?
As I thought about this I was convicted that I need to make sure my wife and I are more regularly eating together quietly over a meal, learning about one another. Do your kids always eat in front of the television or are there times where you enjoy a conversation with them over a meal? Do you model for your kids eating with unbelievers so that they can do this in their high school, in college, or in their future homes?

Are we doing this with our own church people?
Do the people in our churches just show up to destination meetings they can slip in and out of, or are there willing to break bread together? We need to help our people know one another not from a distance but up close and personal.

Then finally, are we doing this with the lost?
Just imagine if we started opening our homes or just going to restaurants with unbelievers. What if we started engaging the world through simple acts of going into their territory and getting to know them? Or, having them in our home, welcoming them as friends, letting the gospel spill out into our conversations? Do we believe grace abounds more than sin and that Jesus can rub off on others?

Eating meals together certainly isn’t the only way to engage the world and eating meals together isn’t an end by itself. But if we want open doors and strong relationships where we can speak the truth to a lost world, I think one simple and biblical way is to return to eating meals together. As we share our lives by sharing a meal we welcome people in grace and the beautiful truth of Jesus will spill out.
Footnotes:
[1] Jim Petersen, Living Proof: Sharing the Gospel Naturally (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1989), 119.
[2] This point is made well by Craig Blomberg in his excellent book on meals and holiness. Craig L. Blomberg, Contagious Holiness (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005).
[3] Craig L. Blomberg, Contagious Holiness (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 150.
[4] Tim Chester, A Meal with Jesus (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 89

Studying the 1st Generation of American Puritans

 

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As you might be able to tell from past posts, two of my interests are Church History and American History. This summer I get the chance to do combine the two through an Independent Study on the first generation of American Puritans. Doing independent studies are in my world the ideal situation. It allows me study something I want and go more in-depth than classes often allow. In the picture above are some of the books awaiting me at my desk, although I’ve been able to recently download most of the primary works via Google Play Books. I’ll hopefully be able to post a number of blogs on my subject matter this summer so for those interested (echo) here’s why I chose this topic and some of what I’ll be doing.

Why study this?
Since the early 20th century there has been a resurgence in studying the religious landscape of America in the 17th-18th centuries, particularly in New England. However, the overwhelming majority of that research has began with Jonathan Edwards or the Great Awakening onwards. This is especially true in evangelicalism and the theological and practical works of those pre-Edwards has been largely neglected. My hope is to do two Independent Studies over the next year. The first covering roughly 1630-1670 and the second spanning from 1670-1710. I believe, and hope to demonstrate, that the first generation of American Puritans in New England was an especially rich group of pastors and theologians (not to mention politicians). They pre-date the height of English Puritanism and despite living in the “wilderness” of America they greatly influenced old and new England. They importance and richness of this first generation in my opinion has also been downplayed in part because of their Congregationalism, which has left them largely without a clear lineage among evangelicals and led to many Presbyterians downplaying their value.

As a whole I find the first generation fascinating in part because it ties in to the starting of the nation I’m a citizen of, the dangerous wilderness they were seeking to survive and cultivate interests the boy in my heart, there are neat connections tying to later figures (such as Edwards), and in recent years I’ve had a growing interest in New England as a whole.

Areas of Study
My study of the first generation of American Puritanism will include a general overview of the historical context in America, the most influential Puritan figures, and the key theological issues at that time. While leaving room for discovery made along the way, my main interests are the important figures: John Winthrop, John Cotton, Richard Mather, Thomas Hooker, Thomas Shepard, and even John Davenport. The theological issues include: the Antinomian controversy, church polity (Congregationalism), conformity vs non-conformity, the place of Harvard and other centers of training, relationship with and differences from Puritans in England, primary Puritan influences on American Puritanism, preparationism, and devotional practices.

Winthrop heads up Massachusetts and Edmund Morgan calls him the first great American. John Cotton was especially influential on John Owen and other Independents and Congregationalists on both sides of the Atlantic. Hooker took on Rutherford’s Presbyterianism and was considered by some the best pastor and preacher among the group (and Ames says the greatest mind he met). Not to mention he founds Hartford and is the father of Connecticut, and has been called “the father of democracy”, although that label might be unwarranted. Shepard greatly influences Edwards, and Mather leaves a spiritual legacy that greatly shapes the next 60 years of American religious history (for good or bad). Davenport seems to go a little off course but is worth studying because of his early influence, his founding New Haven, and he was invited to the Westminster Assembly.

Reading
Although there are some written assignments the study is primarily reading as much on the subject as I can. In order to submerge myself in the context I’m trying to read on 3 levels: what they were reading, what they were writing/preaching, and what people say about them. The first level involves trying to read who they were reading and listening too. Clearly the influence and context could stretch back endlessly and become an overwhelming task, so I’m focusing on the immediate influences. Theologically this includes especially William Perkins and William Ames, but it also includes reading the Geneva Bible and its notes (not the KJV), the Bay Psalm Book, and devotional manuals they were using for personal piety (Lewis Bayly’s The Practice of Piety). The second level is the most important and most enjoyable, primary sources. For my purposes and interests I’m focusing on the sermons and works written by the men mentioned above (Hooker, Winthrop, Shepard, Cotton, Mather) as well as the poetry of Anne Bradstreet (mainly because I really like it). The third level consists of secondary sources writing about, explaining, and arguing about the Puritans. Here’s a list of some of what I’ll be reading or consulting.

Primary Sources

  • John Cotton. The Keyes of the Kingdom of Heaven, and Power thereof, According to the Word of God.
  • Thomas Hooker. The Poor Doubting Christian Drawn to Christ.
  • Thomas Hooker. The Application of Redemption
  • The Cambridge Platform
  • John Cotton. “God’s Promise to His Plantation”
  • John Cotton. Christ the Fountain of Life (I John).
  • Thomas Shepard. The Sound Believer and The Sincere Convert
  • Thomas Shepard. The Parable of the Ten Virgins
  • Ed. Perry Miller. The American Puritans: Their Prose and Poetry.
  • Letter from New England.
  • John Cotton. The Way of the Churches in New England (1645); The Way of the Congregational Churches Cleared (1648);
  • The Journal of Richard Mather
  • David D. Hall. The Antinomian Controversy: 1636-38.

Secondary Sources
• Perry Miller. The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century
Perry Miller. The New England Mind: From Colony to Province
C.E. Hambrick-Stowe. The Practice of Piety.
• Robert Middlekauff. The Mathers: Three Generations of Puritan Intellectuals
• Francis J. Bremer. The Puritan Experiment: New England Society from Bradford to Edwards.
George Leon Walker. Thomas Hooker: Preacher, Founder, Democrat

Other Literature to Consult
• Geoffrey F. Nuttall. Visible Saints: The Congregational Way 1640-1660.
• Joel Beeke. Meet the Puritans.
• Ed. John Coffey and Paul Lim. Cambridge Companion to Puritans.
• Edwin Gaustad. The Religious History of America.
• Michael McGiffert. God’s Plot: Puritan Spirituality in Thomas Shepard’s Cambridge.
• Francis J. Bremer. John Winthrop: Biography as History.
• David Hall. A Reforming People.
• Harry S. Stout. The New England Soul.

Contextualization

center church
On the first Tuesday of every month the leadership team at our church discusses a portion of Tim Keller’s book Center Church. There are several goals, but one is that the reading on our own and then the discussion together as a group will help us think through the “theological vision” for the church as a whole as well as our ministries. This week we’re beginning the second major section of the book (City) and going through Part 3 (Gospel Contextualization). Here are a few notes from this section.

Contextualization is one of those words that often elicits strong responses, at least if one understands the word. For some it’s the driver of everything they do so the word is music to their ears. For others, the concept is anathema and immediately causes a gag reflex. For more moderates who realize, first off, that any use of language means we all contextualize, and secondly, that it’s a helpful concept but not to be overdone as the driver of why and how we do ministry, in this case it simply becomes something we think about just enough to make sure we are contextualizing well and faithfully.

Tim Keller’s book Center Church consists of three parts: Gospel, City, and Movement. These three axes can help us do faithful and fruitful ministry but there are ditches on both sides of each axes. Thankfully Tim Keller begins with and brings everything back to the Gospel. If we begin with contextualization then we have no gospel to communicate. Keller unpacks “Gospel” as: “The gospel is neither religion nor irreligion, but something else entirely—a third way of relating to God through grace. Because of this, we minister in a uniquely balanced way that avoids the errors of either extreme and faithfully communicates the sharpness of the gospel.” (27)

Part 2 then moves into City: “Center Church ministry is neither undercontextualized nor overcontextualized to the city and the culture. Because the city has potential for both human flourishing and human idolatry, we minister with balance, using the gospel to both appreciate and challenge the culture to be in accord with God’s truth” (87).

Moving into what intentional, gospel contexualization is we’ll move straight to the money-quote where Keller defines and explains it.  Contextualization is “giving people the Bible’s answers, which they may not at all want to hear, to questions about life that people in their particular time and place are asking, in language and forms they can comprehend, and through appeals and arguments with force they can feel, even if they reject them.
The great missionary task is to express the gospel message to a new culture in a way that avoids making the message unnecessarily alien to that culture, yet without removing or obscuring the scandal and offense of biblical truth. A contextualized gospel is marked by clarity and attractiveness, and yet it still challenges sinners’ self-sufficiency and calls them to repentance. It adapts and connects to the culture, yet at the same time challenges and confronts it” (89).

Some dumb this idea down to mean we should simply look, speak, and act entirely like our audience. David Wells helps clarify the idea for us. “Contextualization is not merely a practical application of biblical doctrine but a translation of that doctrine into a conceptuality that meshes with the reality of the social structures and patterns of life dominant in our contemporary life” (90). It’s getting into someone’s heart and mind, speaking into the intellectual questions and emotional hopes and fears they might have so as to speak truth to them in a way that they get it and see the beauty of it. It’s answering the questions people actually have in a way they’ll understand the answers, as well as creating the types of questions for people they aren’t asking but should be.

Are there dangers? Like anything else, there are of course dangers. The goal is to see the oncoming dangers and to avoid them, which might just mean avoiding them while still taking the road instead of turning around and heading the opposite direction.
The dangers of contextualization:
• Compromise: “the values of a culture are given preference over the authority of Scripture” (92).
• Syncretism: “This means not adapting the gospel to a particular culture, but rather surrendering the gospel entirely and morphing Christianity into a different religion by overadapting it to an alien worldview” (92-93).
o Compromise or syncretism happens by not allowing the whole of Scripture to speak, so that we ignore, downplay, or deny non-essential teachings.
o Compromise or syncretism happens when doctrines are abandoned one-by-one in order to adapt to our culture’s values.

Examples
Liberalism (early 20th century). Machen argues Liberalism isn’t a version of Christianity but they’ve actually abandoned what Christianity is (historical beliefs) and are a different religion.
Missions (globally or locally). The temptation is to offer a version of Christianity understandable enough or appealing to our sense and values that will either offer a different religion or confuse significant aspects of Christianity. Such as: Jesus as “Son of God” (global) or a gospel of deeds without words (local).

Contextualization is adapting to the forms of a people (language, style, thinking patterns, expressions) to speak into the lives of people (beliefs, values, fears, hopes, aspirations) in order to communicate content (gospel, truth, Word) that people can understand (“this makes sense to me”) and want to embrace (“this explains me, my world, and God in a satisfying way”). It answers questions people ask, raises questions people ask, and allows to crawl into a person’s worldview both to show its shortcomings (what it can’t answer or doesn’t answer in a meaningful way) as well as to show the truth and beauty of Christianity (it does answer the questions my worldview didn’t answer and it offers the meaning, goodness, truth, and beauty I lacked).

Looking Back at Puritanism (with blanket statements)

ryken
While not comprehensive, here’s a short list from Leland Ryken’s Worldly Saints of the contributions and weaknesses of the Puritans.

Contributions of Puritanism
• A God-centered life; all of life is sacred because all of live is lived to God
• God can be seen in small things and big things, ordinary and extraordinary
• Be active and expectant of God working
• The Christian life is practical and must be lived.
• A focus on inner realities and not just external appearances; root issues
• Able to balance things often polarized; head & heart, activism & caution
• Simplicity. A simplicity that exalts, not diminishes

Weaknesses of Puritanism
• An inadequate view of recreation
• Could lead to too many rules or strictness in exactness
• Verbose, too wordy
• Partisan spirit; lack of sensitivity to other groups

This also isn’t comprehensive, but here’s a list of what I see as a few of the reasons why I love the Puritans and what their legacy has been.

Legacy of Puritanism
• Pious evangelical theology.
o Bible governs all of life and leads to communion with God and growing in holiness.
o Spiritual heirs: Isaac Watts, Edwards, Whitefield, Spurgeon, Lloyd Jones
o Westminster Confession & Catechisms, Savoy Declaration, Cambridge Declaration
o Christianity as a religion touching head (knowledge), heart (affections), and hands (practice)
• Its reforming emphasis helped lead to Great Awakening and other revivals.
• The family dynamic in the West.
• In some ways, the formation of the United States—republicanism and democracy.
• America’s early institutions: Harvard, Yale, Princeton.
• Banner of Truth and Puritan literature.

Why I Appreciate the Puritans
• A perspective different than 21st century
• No separation between academy and church; the leading theologians and influencers were pastors
• They thought deeply and felt deeply
• They sit on a doctrine or thought and press out its conclusions
• All theology is practical and all practice is theological
• They wrote amidst hard circumstances; persecution, plague, hiding, sickness, war
• They hold up both the glory of God and communion with God

Puritan Quotes

This Sunday night I’ll be giving a short presentation on English Puritanism at my church. I’d like to whet the appetite by beginning with a few Puritan quotes. Here are some I grabbed off my notes from Evernote but I’d love for you to leave any great (short) English Puritan quotes you might have.

“The winter prepares the earth for the spring, so do afflictions sanctified prepare the soul for glory.” Richard Sibbes

“Conceal not your wounds; open all before him.” Richard Sibbes

“There is more mercy in Christ than sin in us.” Richard Sibbes

“Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.” John Owen

“He who prays as he ought will endeavour to live as he prays.” John Owen

“Christ is the most bountiful physician. Other patients do enrich their physicians, but here the physician enriches the patient. Christ elevates all his patients: he not only cures them but crowns them (Rev. 2:10). Christ not only raises them from the bed, but to the throne; he gives the sick man not only health but also heaven.” Thomas Watson

“Let this revive you; shortly you will enjoy God, and then you shall have more than you can ask or think, glory without intermission or expiration. We will never be ourselves fully until we enjoy God eternally.” Thomas Watson.

“In the Word preached the saints hear Christ’s voice; in the sacrament they have his kiss.” Thomas Watson

“We are justified & saved by the very righteousness of Christ, and no other. He wrought it, though we wear it.” John Flavel

“Here is encouragement to persevere. Jesus, our head, is already in heaven; and if the head be above water the body cannot drown.” John Flavel

“In our first paradise in Eden there was a way to go out but no way to go in again. But as for the heavenly paradise, there is a way to go in, but not way to go out.” Richard Baxter

“God’s presence makes a crowd a church.” Richard Baxter

Puritans vs Quakers

nuttallI recently finished Geoffrey Nuttall’s The Holy Spirit in Puritan Faith and Experience. It was overall a very helpful book on understanding some of the key theological and practical issues that 17th century Puritans and their opponents were wrestling with. Throughout the book Nuttall compares the conservative Puritans and nonconformists (largely though not exclusively relying on Sibbes, Petto, Owen, Baxter, T Goodwin, and Howe), the “radical Puritans” and Separatists (Saltmarsh,
Llwyd, Ebury), and the Quakers (Fox, Dewsbury).

One of the dividing lines between Puritans and Quakers was the relationship between the Spirit and the Word. The Puritans followed Calvin (see my past blog ) in the indivisible connection between the Spirit of God and the Word of God, whereas George Fox and the Quakers allowed for a separation between the two. What this led too in the Quakers was an elevating the Spirit within over the Word of God that we’ve received, which then quickly progressed to a trust in inner impulses over the written and authoritative Word of God. The relationship between the Spirit and the Word wasn’t a 17th century matter but is a Church matter…in every century (see past blog on Spirit and Word in Acts). How does God speak to us, lead us, and open our eyes? How does the written Word become alive in our hearts and minds? Do we trust first something inside of us which may or may not be the Spirit or do we trust first what we know is the Spirit since He has spoken through the inspired Word? These are questions that aren’t talked about enough in churches today but are absolutely essential for how we live the Christian life. Here are a few important thoughts and quotes from the book on the relationship between the Spirit and the Word as a fault-line between Puritans and Quakers.

Nuttall summarizes the Puritan’s stance as follows: “The normal, central emphasis throughout Puritanism is upon the closest conjunction of Spirit and Word” (23). What this means, in sum, is that God’s Spirit always speaks to us today in, by, or through the Word of God. Also, the Word of God, written or spoken, is only made effective or enlightened in the reader/hearer by the Spirit’s illumination of the Word. This means the Spirit and the Word always work in tandem. The Spirit has spoken authoritatively and infallibly through the Word, and the Word needs the Spirit’s illumination for it to penetrate our minds and hearts. This neither set the Spirit over the Word nor do it set the two in opposition. Rather, since it is the Spirit who inspired the Word we cannot and should not imagine the Spirit now contradicting himself or setting up a different authority. Richard Sibbes explains it like this: “the breath of the Spirit in us is suitable to the Spirit’s breathing in the Scriptures; the same Spirit doth not breathe contrary motions” (23).

This is immensely helpful in testing our faith and experience. How do we test something we feel “led to do” or we think “God is saying to us” through an internal prompting? “Hitherto, God’s Word in Scripture has been treated as the criterion by which to test faith and experience. Now, the Holy Spirit is introduced as the touchstone by which all else is to be tried, including the Bible itself….Throughout the years from 1650 onwards there is a perpetual controversy, whether the Word is to be tried by the Spirit, or the Spirit by the Word” (28). Here Nuttall summarizes the issue between the two groups: do we test the internal Spirit by the external Word or do we test the Word by the Spirit? In other words, do we take our internal promptings we suggest are from the Spirit and submit them to the Word of God, or do we validate the Word of God by what we feel or experience as an internal leading?

The author continues: “Cause for sorrow arose from the Quakers tendency to contrast (as it seemed) even to oppose the Spirit in themselves to the Spirit in the Word, and to treat the former, not the latter, as the criterion. One chief charge against them was the charge which had already been brought against the Grindletonians, namely, that they held ‘that their spirit is not to be tried by the Scripture, but the Scripture by their spirit.’ The Associated Ministers of Cumberland and Westmorland, for instance, complained of the Quakers that ‘the Scripture binds not them, if not set on their hearts by a present impulse” (30).

We can see here both a theological and a practical problem. The theological problem was noticed by Sibbes and will be exposed in the next couple of Puritan quotes. It is that the Spirit of God has authoritatively and infallibly spoken in the Word of God so he would not speak differently in us. Because our internal promptings are not infallible and harder to discern what is from us and what is from the Spirit we must test them by the Word of God. The Spirit and the Word are inseparable and so the Spirit will be consistent in what he says. The practical problem is this quickly tumbles into a blind approval of one’s sinful desires and actions. If the Scripture is no longer binding, and what is binding is a present impulse in my heart, than it quickly becomes easy to dismiss what God’s Word has plainly stated in favor of what my heart wants. There is always a connection between separating the Spirit and the Word and rise of Antinomianism. The same link in the Quakers was the same link in the Antinomians of the 17th century. The Puritans were not only safeguarding the connection between the Word and the Spirit but they were promoting the holiness of the Church. Here are a few quotes typical of Puritan responses.

John Owen insists on the conjunction between the two: “he that would utterly separate the Spirit from the Word had as good burn his Bible” (31). Richard Hollinworth writes: “God’s people are led by the Spirit, when they are led by the word inspired by the Spirit, and they are taught by God, when taught by His Book” (31). Richard Baxter is clear about which source to trust if we feel any discrepancy between the Spirit in the Word and the Spirit in our hearts. “We must not try the Scriptures by our most spiritual apprehensions, but our apprehensions by the Scriptures…This trying [testing] the Spirit by the Scriptures, is not a setting of the Scriptures above the Spirit itself; but is only a trying of the Spirit by the Spirit; that is, the Spirit’s operations in ourselves and his revelations to any pretenders now, by the Spirit’s operations in ourselves and his revelations to any pretenders now, by the Spirit’s operations in the apostles and by their revelations for our use. For they and not we are called foundations of the church” (32).

Finally, John Howe provides his thoughts on the matter. “It’s not that God doesn’t speak extraordinarily to people, but that this is both not what is ordinary and to be expected and even in extraordinary cases it is never against what He has already spoken in the Word. “We speak here not of what God can do, but of what he does do…Nor do we speak of what he more rarely does but of he does ordinarily, or what his more usual course and way of procedure is in dealing with the spirits of men. The supreme power binds not his own hands. We may be sure the inward testimony of the Spirit is never opposite to the outward testimony of his gospel which is the Spirit’s testimony also;…he never says anything in this matter by his Spirit to the hearts of men repugnant to what the same Spirit has said in his word” (33).

Here are a few implications from this discussion.

  • The Spirit and the Word are inseparably joined. The Spirit will speak to us by, in, and through the very same Word that He inspired and we also need the Spirit to be the one speaking to us when we open the Word. The Spirit will never speak or lead us contrary to the Word and we should not expect him to speak to us apart form the Word. Conversely, the Word is illuminated by the Spirit and so we must ask his help to take what He’s said and drive  it into our minds and hearts.
  • Test what you feel or think you experience by the Word. Any leadings, impulses, or speaking by God internally to you must be tested against and judged by the sure Word of God. God might be prompting you internally but it also might not be God, so test the internal Spirit in you by the external Spirit in the Word.
  • Be wary of modern movement that downplay the authority of the Word for life and godliness. Some of the present forms (emphasis on some) of free-grace antinomianism and “new covenant theology” tend to separate the Spirit and the Word so that we rely too much on our internal leadings and not enough on God’s fixed Word. The Spirit of adoption who speaks to us is the Spirit of sanctification that changes us. The Spirit that applies grace to our hearts is the same Spirit that leads us into making war on the flesh, pursuing conformity to Christ, and enjoying communion with Christ.

 

All quotations are from Geoffrey F. Nuttall. The Holy Spirit in Puritan Faith and Experience. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1947.

An Endless Cycle of Tasting, Loving, and Knowing

honey

What is the relationship between knowledge, experience, affections, love, and joy? It’s a complicated question with a number of answers. To put it simply, as we grow in understanding of something true or beautiful we experience it in greater ways, and as we experience it and understand it more we love it all the more. This is true when it comes to food, relationships, and especially when it comes to worship. One of the things I appreciate most about the Puritans is the strong emphasis upon experience, and yet it’s experience rooted in actual understanding (knowledge) that sinks in by producing joy in our affections (emotions & desires).

Consider these words from Paul in Philippians. “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ…” (Phil. 19-10) Paul himself has a beautiful vision of an ever-increasing love that has two feet firmly planted in knowledge and discernment. The love, knowledge, and discernment help us to approve, to rightly see, and to have proper affections and joy in the things that are most excellent. This knowledge, love, and approving leads to us being “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:11). Here we see a cycle of love rooted in knowledge that leads to rightly experiencing and approving what is excellent, which leads to a life of more love and knowledge.

Puritan theologian and politician Francis Rous (1579-1659) beautifully captures something similar to what Paul says by appealing to the image of honey (no Jonathan Edwards wasn’t the first or the last to do it). What a beautiful vision for us to be people constantly spinning in the cycle of tasting, loving, and knowing.

“In one place we are told, that Christ’s love is more pleasant than wine; and in another, that the laws of God are more pleasant than honey…By tasting the things themselves, God teaches us to know what the things are; and the more we know them; the more we shall love them; and the more we love them, the more we shall taste them, and the more we taste them, the more we shall know them. And thus shall we run on in an endless circle of tasting, loving, and knowing, which grows still greater, the more we round it.” [1]

Cited in Geoffrey Nuttall, The Holy Spirit in Puritan Faith and Experience (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1947), 40.

Philippians and Richard Baxter

Baxter
This week my church begins preaching through the book of Philippians for the rest of the summer. The opening section gives a glimpse into the heart of Paul for the believers in Philippi. While the beginning of Philippians shows us more of the Apostle Paul it also shows us what hearts united in the gospel feel for one another. The love for Jesus and “partnership in the gospel” (Phil. 1:5) lead to holding one another in our hearts (1:7) and yearning for one another with the affection of Christ Jesus (1:9). As I read Geoffrey Nuttall’s The Holy Spirit in Puritan Faith and Experience I stumbled upon a letter from Richard Baxter. This short snippet from Baxter’s letter (1658) to Barbara Lambe demonstrates how Baxter, maybe the most pastoral of Puritan pastors, also shared a love for other believers he never met that is created by a mutual partnership in the gospel and common bond in Jesus Christ. After Baxter received a letter from Mrs. Lambe he responded with the following.

“Dear Mrs. Lambe,
How true did I feel it in the reading of your Husband’s Lines and yours…that unacquaintedness with the face is no hindrance to the Communion of the Saints. So much of Christ and his Spirit appeared to me in both your writings, that my soul in the reading of them was drawn out into as strong a stream of love, and closing unity of Spirit, as almost ever I felt in my life. There is a connaturality [relationship created because of the same origin] of Spirit in the Saints that will work by sympathy, and by closing uniting inclinations…as a load-stone will exercise its attractive force through a stone wall. I have an inward sense in my soul, that told me so feelingly in the reading of your lines, that your husband and you and I are one in our dear Lord…”
[1]

[1] Geoffrey F. Nuttall, The Holy Spirit in Puritan Faith and Experience (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1947), 143.

Preaching the Gospel to Ourselves?

preach
Should We Preach the Gospel to Ourselves?
Recently I had a good conversation with one of our church’s pastors about the idea of preaching the gospel to ourselves. It has become a popular manta, especially in the “gospel-centered” camps. But, for those of us who upheld the importance of preaching the gospel to ourselves (and one another), have we faced a couple of questions now being raised? First, does the NT commend something along the lines of preaching the gospel to yourself? Or, is that idea (not just the language) somewhat foreign to the NT? Second, if the NT does commend something similar to this concept, why is it worth emphasizing in our day and age? And third, when it comes to sanctification, is preaching the gospel to ourselves enough, or do we move past this initial step as we move into obeying God’s commands, working out our salvation, putting off and putting on, etc.? More questions like this need to be raised so that we’re thinking about our thinking. It’s all too easy to latch onto things that feel right, like being “gospel-centered” or “preaching the gospel to ourselves,” without asking questions about its importance, its meaning, and its effects. I’ll try to tackle each of those questions briefly.

Does the NT commend something similar to preaching the gospel to ourselves?
The language is not explicitly in the NT. On one side, this might give caution to over-estimating an extra-biblical idea. On the other side, specific language doesn’t have to be used in the Bible in order to hold good and necessary conclusions and consequences based on that language. Extra-biblical language can be very helpful in defining what we actually mean. The best example is the Trinity. The wording isn’t used, but the idea of their being one God, three persons, and each person being fully God is clear. So, while the language of “preaching the gospel to ourselves” isn’t in the Bible, I believe the idea behind it can still be found.

Our first model of preaching the gospel to ourselves is Paul’s example. In every NT letter Paul preaches the gospel to believers. He reminds and explains the gospel to them as the basis of why they both can and should make every effort to mature in holiness. He takes them back to the historical work of Jesus (according to the Scripture) and how it is for them (the message).
o Each letter begins either with an opening reminder of the gospel (Eph. 1:3-14; I Cor. 1:30) or the letter has a structure of preaching the gospel first before encouraging them to then live in light of it (See Rom. 1-8, 12-15; Eph. 1-3,  4-6).
o The fact that the NT letters are so full with explicit and implicit gospel-preaching to believers must mean the gospel needs to be remembered and rehearsed so that we know what we should do (ought) and that we really can do it now (can).
o Paul desires to preach the gospel to believers and churches he writes too (cf. Rom. 1:15; Phil. 3:1), not because they don’t know it already but because it must be massaged into our stubborn skulls.

Paul seems to urge Titus to exhort and rebuke the church in “these things” (3:15), which includes both the message of redemption and purification in Jesus (3:14) and the need to renounce ungodliness. See also the emphasis in 3:8 to insist on “these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works.” What are these things? Well it likely includes both the message of justification and renewal in Jesus (3:4-7) and the encouragements in Christ-likeness (3:1-3).

In Ephesians 4:15 Paul exhorts the church to speak the truth in love to one another as the means to mature in Christ. The truth we speak to one another (i.e., preach to one another) is primarily the gospel message about Christ’s person, work, and what we receive through him. This verse reminds us that we not only preach the gospel to ourselves as we meditate on its truth privately, but we preach the gospel to one another as we speak the truth in community. Here are two quotes drawing out what “truth” might mean here.
o “In this context, however, it conveys the more specific sense of accepting the truth of the gospel, speaking it out loud in the corporate gatherings of worship, talking about it with fellow believers, and upholding it firmly.”[1]
o “Accordingly, the apostle is not exhorting his readers to truthfulness in general or speaking honestly with one another, however appropriate or important this may be. Rather, he wants all of them to be members of a ‘confessing’ church, with the content of their testimony to be ‘the word of truth,’ the gospel of their salvation (1:13).’”[2]

Why Preaching the Gospel to Ourselves is Especially Important Today
If you agree with my conclusions above that the Bible supports the idea (or at least something close) of preaching the gospel to ourselves and one another, than the biblical justification is the best justification we have for doing so. However, I think it is especially needed in our current evangelical climate to preach the gospel regularly for at least these reasons. It’s not that this is only thing to preach to ourselves, and it’s certainly not that we only preach the gospel to ourselves, but as we move on to working out our sanctification in our daily lives we must do so with the gospel as our fundamental reason and motivation.

o We need to live daily with a reminder of our sinfulness and our corrupted nature from birth so as not to become prideful or self-reliant. And yet, the knowledge of sin that brings repentance is the same knowledge that leads us to find grace, forgiveness, assurance, and help through Jesus in the gospel. We must remember both who we were/are on our own, but even more so, who we are now in Jesus. The former keeps us humble and grateful and the latter reminds us we really are forgiven, loved, and equipped.
o We need this daily reminder because many see God as someone who will save them but doesn’t really like them unless they do all the right things. Many see God through the lens of how human relationships: recompense. We preach the gospel of free grace to remember God is not like us.
o We need this daily reminder because we’re performance-driven and self-reliant so we will assume we can mature in holiness by our own strength and we’ll then take the credit. The gospel puts us on our knees in brokenness, but it doesn’t leave us there. It picks us up off the floor so we can by God’s grace alone press on.
o We need this daily reminder because many are burnt out because all they’re told they should be doing as a Christian and they know how little progress is taking place. Our culture of busyness and accomplishment makes the Christian life feel like a fast-moving treadmill that runs them into the ground without taking them anywhere. The gospel leads to a life of risk and mission, but it doesn’t do it at the cost of our resting in Christ and relying on the Spirit to do the work through us.
o We need this daily reminder because we continually sin. Our ongoing sins require us to preach the gospel to ourselves (and others in community) to remind us of repentance, faith in Christ’s work, and the promise for help as we continue to press on. The gospel only needs to be preached as often as we still struggle with sin, but since that struggle leads to daily wounds we also need to daily apply the healing salve of the gospel.
o We need this daily reminder because we forget. We forget both what God has actually done for us and who we are now as a new creature in him. Our memory quite easily recalls our sin and is well tuned to hear the voices of others pointing out our failures. So, we preach the gospel of grace because its foreignness and our forgetfulness require a constant reminder of what God has said is true. This is why Paul is okay with reminders (Phil. 3:1) and repetition of the gospel even to believers (Rom. 1:15).

Is Preaching the Gospel to Myself All I Do?
We first looked at some biblical support for preaching the gospel to ourselves and one another. Then, we looked at a few reasons why we need to regularly be preaching the gospel to ourselves. We now come to two other related questions. Is preaching the gospel to ourselves the only motivation for sanctification? And second, is sanctification only a matter of preaching the gospel to ourselves? Or, in other words, if I simply preach the gospel to myself have I done all I need to do, and if I preach the gospel to others in community have I told them all they should know in order to mature in Christ-likeness? I think the answer to these questions is no.

First, the Bible includes a number of motivations for Christians to help energize their sanctification, including: gratitude, new ownership, promise of blessings and greater joy, hope of reward, assurance, duty, Jesus’ glory, fear of God, love to God and neighbor, etc. We should seek knowing more of these motivations and letting all of them increase our desires for following Jesus. One of the dangers of among some today is limiting our motivation to only our gratitude or freedom in justification. No doubt, that is a glorious truth that ignites our passion to follow Jesus, but it’s not the only one and so we should be careful to not speak as if it is.

Second, preaching the gospel to ourselves is neither the end-goal or sufficient when it comes to our sanctification. The gospel in the NT is preaching to unbelievers to bring them to saving faith Christ (generally speaking), while in the NT it’s most often preached to believers with the end-goal of them growing in Christ and loving him more. The gospel is our treasure and through Christ alone we’re justified, but the gospel is meant to lead Christians into holiness and mission. We should hold strongly to preaching the gospel to ourselves, but we also must not minimize or neglect the many imperatives in Scripture and the life we are called to live in Jesus. This life of sanctification is itself grace, both because we can finally do it through the power of the Holy Spirit and because we can do it as grateful sons and daughters of God rather than slaves trying to earn their keep. As we take further steps in maturing we aren’t moving past the gospel in the sense of letting it go, but we’re moving on in the sense that the gospel pushes us into something else. The gospel we preach to ourselves is the catalytic gospel propelling us into obedient and fruitful lives. The growing trend of fearing the imperatives in Scriptures, wrongly equating rules with legalism, and stopping at preaching the gospel to ourselves is a serious error that conveys a half-truth about grace and life in Christ.

Preaching the gospel to ourselves comes up short if it only reminds us of our justification in Christ without also nudging us towards the grace of progressive sanctification by the Spirit. The gospel not only holds out the promise of no condemnation but it promises us that God will write the law on our hearts, change our hearts, and leads us by His Spirit into a new way of living. We must preach the gospel to ourselves, including the realities of who we are and what we’ve received in Jesus Christ as well as the life of following Jesus we’re called to walk and his provisions for us walking it. The NT repeatedly tells us what we should do (imperative/ought) but always roots it in why we can do it (indicative/can). We must continually preach the gospel to ourselves so we do strive to grow but do so in light of God’s gracious working and power enabling us. This means we also should not shy away from emphasizing how we should live in Christ and the need for obedience and holiness. Grace properly understood gives the type of internal rest that energizes us to get to work.

Footnotes:
Image via Acts29 post.
[1] Clinton E. Arnold, Ephesians ECNT (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 269.
[2] Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 311.

Lent: History, Cautions, and Benefits

For those groups—and there are a lot of them in Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism—that hold to a liturgical calendar and its celebrated seasons and days, Lent begins the pilgrimage to Jesus’ cross and resurrection. For most in the West, the season begins with Ash Wednesday and takes place over the next 40 days (Sundays excluded). Can Lent be abused or misused? Yes, of course. Can Lent be observed in a helpful way? I think so. It’s certainly not prescribed in the Bible so we shouldn’t see it as a God-ordained means of grace or as required for Christians, but at the same time, if done in the right way it might be a helpful teaching opportunity that prepares our hearts to feast on the Bread of Life, Jesus. Here’s a very brief explanation as to what Lent is, what is dangerous about it, and what might be helpful about it.

Continue reading Lent: History, Cautions, and Benefits