Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

A Surprise Christmas Present from the Basement of Southern Seminary


Last evening as I was doing laundry in the laundry room located in the basement of Southern Seminary's Fuller Apartments, where I live, I passed by a table marked, 'Free: Take What You Like.' This is a fairly common occurance, as people are always moving in and out of the different apartments on campus and thus trying to rid themselves of excess possessions they have accumulated in order to make the move easier. Usually the items on these 'free' tables are items unwanted by either the people moving or any of their friends. Among the odds and ends I searched through on this particular table, I found a small stack of record albums. (For those of you who don't know, record albums are kinda like CDs, only a lot bigger. :)) In this stack of records, I found the album pictured above. This disc, with a sermon from A.W. Tozer on each side, was a rare find and I'm thankful for whoever left it for me to take.

A few words about Tozer: I believe I was first introduced to A.W. Tozer in Pastor John MacArthur's excellent book, Ashamed of the Gospel. Interested in Tozer from the quotes I had read in MacArthur's book, I read Tozer's most famous books, The Pursuit of God and Knowledge of the Holy, which books I had borrowed from my friend Elizabeth Bookout. I would highly recommend either of these books, which would both be on the list of my top 10 favorite books of all time.

In addition to being an author, Tozer was also pastor of Southside Alliance Church in Chicago. Though Tozer went to be with the Lord in 1963, his sermons can still be heard on SermonAudio.com.

Following are a few highlights from the teaching of A.W. Tozer:

Tozer on Theology:
In the first sentence of Knowledge of the Holy, chapter one, Tozer wrote, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” He asserted that what we believe about God- not just the confessions we point to, but our private thoughts about God, will always shape our character. This is one reason it is so important to carefully conform our thoughts about God to what He has revealed in His Word.

Tozer on the Incomprehensibility of God:
Though Tozer exhorted his readers and listeners to attain sound biblical knowledge of God, he realized that God can never be fully known by His creatures. In Knowledge of the Holy, Tozer also wrote, “It is obviously impossible for a limited mind to grasp the Unlimited.” That God is in a sense unknowable is clear from the first words of Scripture- “Even the most vigorous and daring mind is unable to create something out of nothing by a spontaneous act of imagination.” Anything that we can even imagine is only based upon things God has already created. The yearning to know the unknowable arises from the image of God in the nature of Man, but we can only know God through Jesus Christ, and our knowledge of Christ is dependent on the hearing or reading of Scripture. The question “What is God like in Himself?” is unanswerable- the question “What has God disclosed about Himself that the reverent reason can comprehend?” is what we seek to know.

Tozer on the Trinity:
In Knowledge of the Holy, Tozer also had some helpful insights into the nature of the Trinity. Tozer asserted that the Trinity is certainly mysterious, but, on final analysis, so is everything else. An example of how everything is, in a certain very real sense, mysterious is drawn from the nature of electricity. We can describe what electricity does, but as to what it is, who can accurately say beyond mere symbols that do not form a concrete image in the mind? Secularists merely lie to themselves when they claim true understanding of even the most basic things in nature. We do not believe in the Trinity due to human reason, but, “Belief in the Trinity has since the days of the apostles shone above the Church of the Firstborn as she journeyed down through the years.” Tozer demonstrated how the Bible teaches the Trinity to work in unity: In creation (Gen.1:1; Col. 1:16; Job 26:13 and Ps. 104:30), in the incarnation (Luke 1:35), at baptism (Matt. 3:16-17), in the atonement (Heb. 9:14), in the resurrection (Acts 2:32; John 10:17-18, and Rom. 1:4), in our salvation (I Pet. 1:2), and in the indwelling of our souls (John 14:15-23).

Tozer on Pragmatism:
Tozer noticed that pragmatism had crept into the church of his day... He wrote, "I say without hesitation that a part, a very large part, of the activities carried on today in evangelical circles are not only influenced by pragmatism but almost completely controlled by it. Tozer described the danger posed to the church by even so-called "consecrated" pragmatism:

The pragmatic philosophy...asks no embarrassing questions about the wisdom of what we are doing or even the morality of it. It accepts our chosen ends as right and good and casts about for efficient means and ways to get them accomplished. When it discovers something that works it soon finds a text to justify it, "consecrates" it to the Lord and plunges ahead. Next a magazine article is written about it, then a book, and finally the inventor is granted an honorary degree. After that any question about the scripturalness of things or even the moral validity of them is completely swept away. You cannot argue with success. The method works; ergo, it must be good.
[Tozer, God Tells the Man Who Cares (Harrisburg, Penn.: Christian Publications, 1970), 71. Found in MacArthur, Ashamed of the Gospel (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1993), 80-81.]

Tozer on Evangelism:
Perhaps the most important article ever written by Tozer was his essay, "The Old Cross and the New." From the memorable first words of this essay, "All unannounced and mostly undetected there has come in modern times a new cross into popular evangelical circles. It is like the old cross, but different: the likenesses are superficial; the differences, fundamental," Tozer rails against modern evangelical practices that ignore the Gospel call to repentance and undermine a vital aspect of the biblical significance of the cross. I strongly encourage anyone reading this blogpost to read "The Old Cross and the New" in its entirety and to pray that the LORD would bring a revival of true Gospel preaching to churches throughout the United States and the world.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Bible Reading Like An Apostle: Introduction

About two months ago now, on October 31st, as most Americans were celebrating Halloween, many Protestants throughout the world were celebrating Reformation Day– commemorating the fact that on October 31, 1517 in the little town of Wittenburg, a German monk named Martin Luther issued an invitation to debate contained in 95 theses that were posted on the door of Castle Church. Historians would later consider this event as a type of formal start to the Protestant Reformation. Though this date is certainly important (Luther was certainly beginning to question some basic principles of the Roman Catholic system in 1517) the most vital aspect of the Protestant Reformation– the recovery of widespread preaching of the true, biblical Gospel– did not begin until 1519.

In 1519, Luther was studying through the book of Romans and contemplating the justice of God. Up until this time, he had been utterly frustrated because he had been taught, basically, that if we do our best in our service to God, then God’s grace would make up the deficit between our works, which always fall short of His glory (Rom. 3:23), and God’s perfect standard of justice. One fatal flaw with this system is, as Luther realized, that one can never be sure that the absolute best has been done. At the end of a day spent diligently trying to please God through Bible study, prayer, and good works, one may still think back to times when there could have been a little more positive effort involved. In his studies of Romans, Luther came to understand that salvation is not based upon our own works at all, but on the works of Christ done on behalf of sinners. The only way sinners can be justified– made right in God’s sight– is by faith, that is, by trusting in the person and work of Jesus Christ. When Luther came to understand this, he wrote, “I felt myself reborn and to have gone into open doors through paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning…This passage of Paul [Romans 1:17] became to me a gate to heaven…”

As long as Martin Luther had continued to interpret Scripture based on a system of tradition handed down by Rome, Luther had never truly understood the Gospel of grace. Once Luther studied the Scripture alone– allowing Scripture to speak for itself– God changed Luther’s heart and he was born again. “Scripture alone” thus became a rallying cry for the Protestant Reformation. “Scripture alone” became the formal principle, or blue-print, for Reformation. The entire idea of biblical Reformation is that we are to prayerfully, humbly and diligently study the Scriptures, come to a firm understanding of what God is teaching us by His Scriptures, and then faithfully put His teachings into practice.

One vital question in regards to this principle of “Scripture alone” involves the process of understanding, or interpreting, Scripture. Without Rome or some other religious hierarchy to instruct us as to the meaning of particular passages, how are we to be sure that we are understanding and applying them correctly? In response to this question, Luther and the Reformers who followed him asserted that Scripture is able to interpret itself. They said, “Scripture interprets Scripture.” This phrase was intended to indicate, among other things, that Scripture itself reveals principles of interpretation that allow Christians today to come to a sure knowledge of what God is communicating in His Word. Like the earliest church in Jerusalem, Christians today are to be devoted to the teaching of the apostles (Acts 2:42). And so we may ask, ‘Does Scripture record how the apostles interpreted Scripture?’ It is my firm conviction, following the principle of “Scripture alone,” that the answer to this question is a definite “yes.”

As I attempt to elucidate the example set by the apostles of how to interpret Scripture a word of clarification must be mentioned at the outset: The principles of interpretation revealed by Scripture through the apostles are not given to us in some textbook-fashion, but are rather demonstrated by example. Now, many of us have been taught to draw our beliefs not from examples found in Scripture, but from places where the Bible is explicitly teaching a doctrine or giving a command. And it is a good idea to take caution before framing a belief based on an example, as some examples may only apply to specific people at specific given times. On the other hand, the Apostle Paul consistently encouraged and commanded believers to follow his example (Phil. 3:17; II Thess. 3:9; II Tim. 1:13, etc.). Specifically, Paul expected others to follow his example of godly living and his example of teaching biblical truths. So I believe that Christians have warrant, based on a clear command of Scripture, to follow the apostles’ example of biblical interpretation. Also, if we reject the example of interpretation given by the apostles, saying that the apostles interpreted the Bible in a different way than we are able to interpret it today, as some would have us believe, then where are we to turn in finding principles to understand the Bible? If we cannot follow the example of the apostles, then we are left at the mercy of constantly changing opinions of modern men– men who are certainly not the foundation of the Church (Eph. 2:20).

Monday, December 18, 2006

2 Lousy Reasons Not to Homeschool by Tim Challies

I am writing this post as a former public school teacher. From my experiences and research in education, I have become firmly convinced that public school is grossly inferior to home school or Christian school in meeting the needs of children for moral and intellectual training.

Last week Tim Challies, The World's Most Famous Christian Blogger, attempted to defend his decision to send his children to public school. Now, I am a great admirer of Mr. Challies, who I briefly met at Band of Bloggers before the Together for the Gospel conference in Louisville earlier this year. (I met him as he was also meeting dozens of other people, so it is highly unlikely that he remembers me.) Challies is usually a great model of Christian discernment- he is even currently writing a much-needed book on the subject of discernment- and so I was very disappointed at the obvious weaknesses in his rationale for subjecting his children to public school education. The 2 main reasons Challies gives for sending his children to public school are the following: "For Missions" and "To Avoid Worldliness."

For Missions

Challies writes, "I want my children to learn how to witness to their friends and want them to do it."

In this section, Challies gives the argument that our children are to be missionaries into the public schools. And his statements on this subject are, at first, somewhat persuasive.

Challies writes, "Canada [where he lives] is a spiritual wasteland and my heart bleeds for the people in this neighborhood, in this community, and this nation... God has placed us in this culture, among these people, and He expects us to reach out to them and to let the gospel go forth."

Now, if I had a son or a daughter that was a Christian and he or she attained a level of spiritual maturity to express the burden to be a missionary into the public schools with terms similar to those Challies writes of, I could possibly see allowing him or her to attend school in such a secular environment. But the key here is that the child himself (or herself) must personally have the God-given drive to minister the Gospel in such a "spiritual wasteland." Christian parents must certainly provide a model for witness to their children, and they must surely provide opportunites for their Christian children to minister the Gospel to their friends, but placing them in an instructional environment in which they are constantly being educated according to a godless worldview for seven hours every day and where the brief conversations that occur between classes are much more conducive to triviality and worldliness rather than meaningful interaction with other students' spiritual condition- this course of action seems hardly in accordance with the biblical mandate to "train up a child in the way he should go" (Pr. 22:6).

Challies' idea of sending his children to public school in order for them to be missionaries is all the more dubious in light of his following statements:
"Trusting that my children will grow up to be believers..."
"Assuming my children are or will soon be young Christians..."
Apparently, Mr. Challies' children (presumably, due to their youth), have yet to present convincing signs of conversion. This seems to undermine the entire idea of sending children to public school as a mission field. For how can someone bring the Gospel to others when he or she has not personally been transformed by the Gospel? As the most pressing educational need for children (especially children who have not yet become Christians) is to learn the Gospel, wouldn't it be far better to place them in an environment where they could be taught how every aspect of their curriculum relates to the person and work of the God to whom they need to be reconciled?

To Avoid Worldliness

Now, whereas Challies' point about sending children as missionaries into their public schools seems to make some sense (at least it would if we were thinking of Christian children), Challies' next point is truly incredible. For Challies believes that public school actually assists in helping children to avoid worldliness. ("Worldliness" being defined by John MacArthur as "any preoccupation with or interest in the temporal system of life that places anything perishable before that which is eternal.")

In regard to how public school could actually help children to avoid worldliness, Challies makes the following statements:
"Sooner or later children will want to see what the world has to offer. It is far better to let them see it when their hearts are tender, their confidence is in their parents, and their abilities are limited."

Now, I fully agree with the first sentence above, but strongly object to the second. Why is it better to allow children to be exposed to "what the world has to offer" before they have had adequate training and demonstrated the ability to exercise biblical discernment? Challies argues that the confidence of young children "is in their parents," but the fact is that young children's confidence is in authority figures in general. If the authority figures they encounter for about seven hours every day are presenting information to them from a non-biblical and sometimes anti-biblical worldview, how can one expect that they will not be affected in favor of worldliness? Are the parents going to spend an equal amount of time (seven hours a day) specifically helping the children learn to relate their public school experiences to a proper biblical outlook?

And, aside from their confidence in authority figures, we know that children quickly come to be more influenced by their peers. Public school promotes worldliness in children as most children inevitably become close companions with their classmates, the vast majority of whom will not be Christians. And as Scripture warns, "the companion of fools will be destroyed" (Pr. 13:20).

Conclusion

In Challies' first post on this subject, he made sure to emphasize that sending his children to public school was a conscious choice he and his wife made for the reasons he revealed in his second post, quoted from above.

In the first post, Challies writes, "Public schools are not the only option available to us. We are capable of homeschooling our children--we are both well-educated and each have a university degree. There are homeschooling groups in our town that we could tap into and endless numbers of homeschooling resources available to us."

Yet even with his education and the resources he has available, Challies remains unconvinced that children receive a better education at home than at public school. But I would assert that home school is preferable for children both educationally and spiritually.

Educationally, children can receive better individualized instruction at home than at public school. It is simply impossible for a teacher in front of a classroom of 30 students to assess each child's abilities and cater instruction to each child's needs in as helpful a manner as can be done at home. No one is in a position to know a child and instruct a child better than his or her parents. Children can explore educational materials on the computer better at home, where there may be a computer for every child or every couple of children rather than 2 computers in a classroom of 30 children. These considerations, along with such opportunities for regular field trips and learning projects rather than the artificial, institutional environment of public schools, are what have brought me to the conclusion as an educator that my children will be home-schooled if at all possible.

In addition to the educational considerations mentioned above, I must re-emphasize the spiritual benefit of home-schooling, which is absent from public education. As Graeme Goldsworthy writes concerning biblical theology, "God made every fact of the universe, and he alone can interpret all things and events" [Graeme Goldsworthy, “But how can we know?” According to Plan: An Introductory Biblical Theology]. But is this what children are going to learn in public school? Are they going to learn of God as their Sovereign Creator and Sustainer- a truth that should certainly be explored in every subject area? No, public school either ignores or flatly denies the knowledge of God and enjoyment of Him as the goal to all education.

And so I encourage any parent or parent-to-be reading this to consider carefully the question of how your children should be educated, and to take heed to the words of our Lord, who said,

"But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea." (Matthew 18:6 NKJV)

UPDATE: Dr. Voddie Baucham Jr. has written an excellent article on this subject, "Education: The Lost Key to Discipleship," addressing many of the issues I have mentioned here. (HT:: spunky)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Top Ten Signs You May Not Be Reading Your Bible Enough

10. The preacher announces the sermon is from Galatians and you check the table of contents.
9. You think Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob may have had a few hit songs during the '60s.
8. You open to the gospel of Luke and a World War II savings bond falls out.
7. Your favorite Old Testament patriarch is Hercules.
6. A small family of woodchucks has taken up residence in the Psalms.
5. You become frustrated because Charlton Heston isn't listed in either the concordance or the table of contents!
4. Catching the kids reading the Song of Solomon, you demand, 'Who gave you that stuff?!'
3. You think the Minor Prophets worked in the quarries.
2. You keep falling for it every time when your pastor tells you to turn to First Condominiums (and Second Hesitations).
1. The kids keep asking you too many questions about your usual bedtime story called, Jonah the Shepherd-Boy and His Ark of Many Colors.

The above list is from the very end of The Way of the Master Radio broadcast on November 30, 2006 (Hour 2). I use this list as a hopefully-humorous introduction to a serious topic, that of systematic Bible reading. In addition to memorizing verses of Scripture and in-depth study of particular passages, it is important to consistently be reading through God's Word chapter by chapter, book by book. By reading through the Bible in this way, Christians gain a grand scope of God's revelation and thus are much better equipped to understand smaller sections within the big picture. The beginning of the New Year, which is coming up soon, is a great time to begin systematically reading through the whole Bible. Now, I am not trying to set up a legalistic rule that every Christian must read through the entire Bible every year, but I hope to encourage my readers to have some plan to get to know all of God's Word better.

The following is a short list of resources that you may find helpful to begin systematic Bible reading:

If you have an ESV paperback Bible, look in the front of the Bible before the preface for the section titled, "Getting Started: A Forty-Day Bible Reading Plan." This may be especially helpful for you if you've never read through the whole Bible before. The forty-day plan does not guide you through every chapter or even every book of the Bible, but it does acquaint you with some passages in which major teachings are introduced. Using this plan, you could read through these crucial Bible passages about 8 times in a year, even if you miss some days in your systematic Bible reading. In the back of this Bible there is also a chart for reading through the entirety of the text in one year.

This year I read through (or 'will have read through' on Dec. 31, Lord willing) the Daily Bible in Chronological Order. This was a very interesting way to read the Bible, because the passages are re-arranged according to the way that they occurred in history. So, for example, the Psalms that have a clear indication as to when they were written by David are placed within the narrative of David's life found in places such as 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles, which are combined. The letters written by Paul are placed in the narrative of his life found in Acts. The 4 gospel accounts of Jesus' life are combined into 1 narrative, so that a timeline of His life becomes more readily apparent. If you do choose to read through this particular Bible this coming year, I would caution you that some of the way it is laid out is controversial. Biblical historians are not exactly certain on the timeline of some events, and so it is always good to check with several commentaries before coming to a conclusion whether to accept or reject the order this version of the Bible gives. Also, the man who arranged this Bible, F. LaGard Smith, writes notes before certain sections and these notes do not contain any reference to how he formed his opinions- so my suggestion is for the reader to skip these notes as much as possible and deal with what the Bible itself has to say.

Starting this January, I'm planning to read through the Two Year Bible. This Bible is formatted in such a way as to be read through in 2 years by a 7 minute Bible reading each day with a portion from the Old Testament, one from the New Testament, and one each from the Psalms and the Proverbs. These short Bible readings will leave time for more in-depth Bible study of certain passages. My one concern with the format of this Bible is that with a daily reading consisting of several short passages from different parts of Scripture, it may be harder for me to remember what I read last (it may be kind of like trying to watch 4 different TV shows at once). If you choose to read through this Bible, I would caution you that the Two Year Bible is in the New Living Translation, which, although translated by a team of excellent scholars, seems to be more concerned with being easy to read than with being an accurate reflection of the specific words and phrases communicated by God in the original Greek and Hebrew. So, while I have no problem with this translation for systematic Bible reading in which the goal is to gain familiarity with the overall biblical text, I would strongly suggest that in seeking to do in-depth Bible study you should turn to a more literal translation such as the New American Standard Bible or the English Standard Bible (though in doing in-depth Bible study, you will always want to check more than one translation).

At some time in the future, I'm planning to read through For the Love of God, volumes 1 and 2. This is a 1 year Bible reading plan with comments by the excellent New Testament scholar D.A. Carson, giving information on how each passage fits into the overall context of the story of God's work through history, as perfectly presented in the Scripture. This Bible reading plan was recommended to me by my Biblical Hermeneutics professor, Dr. Stephen Wellum.