Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Review of Tim Keller's Generous Justice

There has been a move afoot for the last thirty years to recapture the biblical gospel from the ravages of a man-centered, therapeutic, easy-believing, corrupted American church. Some of the names important to the reestablishment of a God-centered approach to preaching, evangelism, and counseling include John MacArthur, Jr., John Piper, Mark Dever, Jay Adams, the Tripp brothers, and R.C. Sproul, to name just a few. Tim Keller, the gentle pastor-scholar of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan belongs on this list.

Generous Justice is really a book about the Lordship of Christ as applied to the care of the vulnerable. Keller demonstrates from the Old and New Testaments that God has always been concerned about the disadvantaged in society. He points out that Old Testament Israel was castigated for not providing for the care of the widow, the orphan, the poor, and the stranger. Always exegetically careful, Keller shows that Jesus Christ has the same concern for His church.

The major thesis of the book is revealed on page 99, and comes only after Pastor Keller has walked through the biblical evidence of both Testaments; it is a point deserving of thoughtful consideration. After citing James 2:15-16, he comments:
If you look at someone without adequate resources and do nothing about it, James teaches, your faith is 'dead,' it is not really saving faith. So what are the 'works' [James] is talking about? He is saying that a life poured out in deeds of service to the poor is the inevitable sign of any real, true, justifying, gospel-faith. Grace makes you just. If you are not just, you've not truly been justified by faith. [Emphasis mine.]

Part of the power of this book is that Keller does not make the reader choose between biblical orthodoxy and social justice. Unlike the religious liberal, Keller celebrates doctrine and truth, claiming that it drives us to true justice. He shows that the works a genuine believer will produce are headlined by efforts to care for the most vulnerable.

Generous Justice is characterized by orthodox biblical faithfulness and a generosity of spirit. Keller is not one to critique other thinkers; he isn't polemical; it is his readers he gently critiques. Keller is very widely read, and will use insights from believer and unbeliever alike to make his points, all the while never departing from Scripture. The last three chapters are, in my opinion, a tour de force of the doctrine of common grace as applied to social justice.

Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 12:12: But beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body. As a busy pastor (and a very slow reader) I feel the frustration of simply trying to keep current in my reading, including much stuff that turns out to be irrelevant, poorly done, or simply unimportant. This is not one of those books. Generous Justice is a worthwhile reality check on both your ministry and your personal life. You really ought to read it.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

All hail the sippee cup

Look, Grandma, no drops, no spill, no muss, no fuss. Obviously the sippee cup was invented by a grandparent, or at least a very intelligent person, or perhaps I just said the same thing twice, which I do regularly.

Anyway, Doris and I had the grandkids here last weekend, which was the cause of much excitement, some of it unplanned.

We did some gardening. . .

and planted some, um, trees (??)

re-chalked the sidewalk. . .

and . . . well, not sure what we were doing here other than having fun.

A couple of cogent observations:

  • The Lord was very wise when He determined to give children to the very young.
  • I did not realize I was this old.
  • I can keep up if I have thirteen hours of sleep a night, plus a long nap during the day.
  • The United States energy problem is solved as soon as someone figures out how to harness a five-year old to a power-generating treadmill.
  • Just like children, sippee cups are a gift from the Lord.
  • My wife has the patience of Job, the gentleness of a saint, and the wisdom to always know what to do when the little one stuffs a bean up his nose.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What does Matthew 5:22 mean?

Matthew 5:22 (NASB) "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell."

Does this text prohibit the identification of someone as a fool? For what it's worth, I don't think it is a blanket prohibition. Here was my response to the questioner

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Just too ugly...

I can't believe I released such a thing into the wild! So I have reeled it in. The more I think about my excerpt from Outlander Chronicles which I was showing on CreateSpace, the less I like it.

The opening paragraph is a perfect example of purple prose. Writers will know what I am talking about. For non-writers, purple prose is an attempt by a writer to be literary and profound, that comes off just being, well, clumsy and obnoxious. That's a gracious way of putting it.

I guess if you are going to write a dud, might as well do it in the opening paragraph of a 100,000 word novel, right? Best place for it, right? [Sarcasm alert. Do I really need to say that?]

Anyway, my pride has finally overtaken me, and I have taken the offending link down, deleted the preview, and am fervently hoping that anyone who has read it soon forgets that I wrote it. If you don't know what I am babbling about, see this post, although remember - I have taken down the link to the painful purple prose.

I've started a re-write of Outlander [I hate re-writing], and the offending paragraph has already been replaced [and it is not purple anymore, believe me]. One of these days, probably in 2312, I will finish the re-write, and repost the excerpt.


Edited 5/3/2012: Rewrites were completed in November of 2011, and Outlander Chronicles: Phoenix has been published.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Common Grace, Special Grace, Amazing Grace

Common grace is the term by which theologians refer to God's goodness expressed to mankind generally.

One of the clearest biblical statements of common grace is found in Matthew 5:44-45 (NASB) "But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous [emphasis mine].

The sun rising upon those who reject Him, and the rain falling on those who hate Him is a sample of God's common grace. Once you start to think about it, you discover that we are inundated by evidences of God's love and care for His creation.

  • Why are babies cute? Because God is good.
  • Why does ice cream taste good? Because God is good [why is there ice cream? Because God is good!].
  • Why are the Rocky Mountains pleasing to look at? Because God is good.
  • Why is there football? Because God is good! [why is there baseball? So there is something to do between football seasons!]

The list could go on ad infinitum. The point is obvious; this creation is stuffed to the gills with signs of transcendence, the fingerprints of a Creator God Who is good.

Some people question common grace, and even the existence of God Himself because of the suffering they see around them. But what we are seeing is a cosmos of men in rebellion against their Creator. Suffering is the inevitable result. Squabbling children is not an evidence that the parents are evil (nor is it a particularly compelling evidence that the parents don't exist).

The question is not, if God is so good, why is there suffering? The real question is, in an obviously fallen world, why is there still so much good? And the answer is God's own powerful goodness, which mankind experiences as common grace.

There is another sort of grace, a special, salvific grace, sometimes called particular grace, experienced only by His elect. This grace is what draws some men and women to a special relationship with Him. The only reason that the gospel is foolishness to most, but the power of God unto salvation to a few, is God's particular grace (1 Corinthians 1:23-24).

 By this grace, fallen man's hostility against God is overcome; spiritually blind eyes are made to see, spiritually dull ears are made to hear, and spiritually dead hearts are made alive. Ephesians 2:1-9 provides a good look at this miracle of grace.

The bottom line is this: if you know Christ, and your neighbor does not, it does not mean that you are any smarter than your neighbor. It certainly does not mean you are any better than your neighbor. In fact, 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 tells us that the opposite is true: God has chosen the weak, the foolish, the base, the despised. If you know Christ and your neighbor does not, it is only because God has, by His sovereign choice, granted to you the particular grace of salvation. It has nothing to do with you, my friend. It has everything to do with the amazing grace of God.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I'm found; was blind, but now I see. . .

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Did he know Who to thank?

There were three crosses prepared on that hill. It was going to be a triple execution; not an unusual thing for Rome who had at times crucified tens, and even hundreds. Who would the victims be this time?

Mark 15:7 indicates that there were some insurrectionists in prison, who had committed murder in the course of their insurrection. The two who wound up on the left and right-hand crosses are called robbers (Mark 15:27). The word used (λῃστής) can also be translated insurrectionist.

For whom was the third cross prepared? Perhaps it was prepared for Barabbas. John uses the same word “robber” in John 18:40 of Barabbas, and Luke makes clear his crime: Luke 23:19 (NASB) He was one who had been thrown into prison for a certain insurrection made in the city, and for murder.

Perhaps the three crosses were meant for three who had rebelled against the imperial might of Rome. There was but one sentence for the crime of insurrection: crucifixion.

The sun had risen on Barabbas' last day. I wonder what he was feeling as he contemplated the horror the next six to twelve hours would hold. Doubtless he had seen men die under a Roman whipping. Surely he had seen at least several crucifixions, and knew that they were always preceded by scourging. Was his hatred of Rome so strong that it obscured his fear? Or did he dread the coming lash that would expose his bones and internal organs as the flesh was ripped from his body?

I wonder if he could hear, faintly through the prison walls, as the crowd roared his name? Was someone shouting for his condemnation? Was he the next blood spectacle? The booted feet he heard approaching his cell – was it the guard coming to tie him to the whipping post?

I wonder whether icy fear gripped his heart as the ring of keys clanked against the bars when the jailor unlocked his door, and two burly soldiers stepped in, grabbed his manacled hands, and began to drag him out of the cell. Did he scream, or cry out, or beg for mercy?

I wonder what he thought when they dragged him out of the prison door, removed the shackles, and left him standing alone on the outside, blinking in the sunlight. I wonder, did he know Who took his place on that middle cross?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Tragedy for the Gospel of Jesus Christ

I am angered, outraged, tonight having learned that Terry Jones, leader of something ironically called the Dove World Outreach Center burned a Koran, streaming video of the act live over the Internet. You can read about this false prophet's reprehensible act here.

Predictably, outrage has spread across the Muslim world, resulting in deaths of innocent people, including UN workers in Afghanistan.

Several things ought to be said.

First, genuine believers in Christ everywhere should condemn this man's actions without hesitation or mental reservation. Jones' actions, like the Inquisition, bear no resemblance to Christ or the Gospel. That point needs to be made immediately and without equivocation.

Does Christianity have its share of pathetic, dangerous, and unbalanced people who attempt to use the Bible for their own agenda? Certainly. Jones is evidently one of these. But every movement, every creed, every philosophical position has its wingnuts inhabiting the far frontier.

Do I believe (and teach) Islam is a false religion? Certainly I do, just like they believe Christianity is false, just like atheists believe all religions are false. But I will respect their right to peaceably practice their religion, peaceably proselyte, and peaceably preach. If I don't want to hear what they are saying, I can walk down the other side of the street for crying out loud. We don't need to burn anybody's books!

Second, we don't need any additional laws, hate-speech legislation, or restrictions on religion. The government should not be called upon to do anything, unless Jones has already broken existing laws (in which case he should be prosecuted). Writing laws to protect us from this sort of lunacy will wind up trampling on religious freedom; and trampling on religious freedom eventually winds up restricting freedom to think, speak, share opinions for all of us.

So, don't write your congressman asking for action. Instead, write a blog, or a letter to the editor, or stick a sign in your front yard, condemning this reprehensible deed. All genuine believers everywhere should let the world know: this dastardly act has nothing to do with genuine Christianity, and we do not approve of it or condone it. It has everything to do with Jones' own warped, wicked mind.

Friday, April 1, 2011

MORE lembas bread . . . .

Okay, this is getting bad. Thoughtspot is supposed to be a serious blog. And it really will be. Someday.

But for now, a little more fun. It is, after all, Friday night. Doris [love you babe!] is away with identical twin sister Diane [yes, to those who are wondering, I have gotten them confused, at least when we were first married] having a ladies weekend. And, to those insatiably curious souls out there (all two of you), Dor and Di sew when they get together without Tom and I around. Yes, you read that right: sew. I know, I know, it's a really wild life.

But I digress. Tonight, I watched Bourne Supremacy, while I ate dinner off of a TV tray [I guess if the ladies get their night out, I can have a Man Night]. And, I watched this funny video by Josh and two of his buddies in their Young Married's class, who were having a Man Night. Josh is my son, and in this flick he is the guy on the extreme right of the couch. And, unless I am mistaken, the starring cat is his and Abbie's feline, Modis. Modis has, well, issues. [He fetches toys when they are thrown. Just like a dog.]

Anyway, get out your popcorn, send your wife to her sewing room, and enjoy. It's a hoot.