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Reason & Charity Must Promote the Cause of Truth & Piety

A recent mailing from James Kushiner of Touchstone Magazine included some discussion of how Samuel Stanhope Smith, president of Princeton about 200 years ago, handled a theological disagreement with a friend. Smith said that though he thought his friend’s position was in error, this error did not jeopardize his salvation:

therefore your asserting this principle will not provoke any pious rage in me. I will give your argument a fair and cool examination. If I am not convinced, I will represent my objections to you with the same candor–if I cannot answer you I will not grow angry–and that is more than you can say of every Christian Brother–but I have learned long since, not to fight for God as if the devil were in me. If reason and charity cannot promote the cause of truth and piety, I cannot see how it should ever flourish under the withering fires of wrath and strife. [emphasis added]

I think there is much to learn here.

john witherspoon

“Let no man seek to avoid that reproach which may be his lot, for preaching the truths of the everlasting Gospel, but let him always avoid the just reproach of handling them in a mean, slovenly, and indecent manner.”

- John Witherspoon

 

T. T. Eaton on Education

 

In honor of the beginning of classes for a new school year today at Union University, I am posting this brief essay by T. T. Eaton on education. This is taken from the 1905-1906 edition of Lest We Forget, the Union yearbook. At the time of this writing Eaton was serving as a trustee of Union.

 

Ben Mitchell recently shared this essay, and I thought it was a great statement on true education. I am honored to begin my fifteenth year of teaching at an institution which continues in its heritage of providing the sort of education described here.

 

Handy Volume of the Psalms

I am absolutely loving this new edition of the Psalms published by Crossway.

After Martin Luther translated the Psalms into German it is said that he carried a little volume of the just the Psalms with him everywhere. It was his constant companion, prayer guide and summary of the entire Bible. Several years ago I decided I wanted a copy of the just the Psalms which I could mark up and pray through. I printed all 150 psalms and placed them in a three ring binder.

That tool has been wonderful for me, but it is bulky and fragile. Then a month or so ago I received this new copy from Crossway. It is beautifully produced, small, hardy and has plenty of room for notations. Also the paper is thick enough for writing, not the very thin sort often found in Bibles. Last month I was in Pike National Forest and took my copy on a morning hike so I could read and pray from one of the summits. That would have been more difficult with my three ring binder.

 

I hope this hardy and handy copy of the Psalms encourages many people to re-engage the Psalms.

J I Packer on Aging Well

finishing-our-course-with-joy-packerSomewhere along the way I picked up a Kindle copy of J. I. Packer’s recent book, Finishing Our Course with Joy: Guidance from God for Engaging with Our Aging. Though it may surprise some of my students, I am not yet in the senior era of life which Packer addresses, but anything written by Packer is of interest to me. So, while on vacation, I opened and read this book. And I am glad I did.

Packer makes it quite explicit that he is addressing older believers and says “aging is not for wimps”! His main point is contained in this sentence:

“my contention is going to be that, so far as our bodily health allows, we should aim to be found running the last lap of the race of our Christian life, as we would say, flat out. The final sprint, so I urge, should be a sprint indeed.”

He has already made clear that he knows from growing personal experience the pains of older age- decreasing energy and the negative effects on body and mind. In light of this, I was particularly moved by this passion to finish the race “flat out,” leaving nothing on the field as we used to say.

Dr. Packer critiques the cultural idea of giving up all responsibility and coasting to the end. He critiques older people who think this way and others in the church who encourage or assume such thinking. Here are some relevant excerpts.

So eldercare in the churches, while rightly taking account of increasing bodily infirmities among the aging, should at the same time seek to cherish and continue to harness the ministering capacities that these Christians displayed at earlier stages of their lives.

to think of Christian retirees as exempt from the twin tasks of learning and leading, just because they do not inhabit the world of wage and salary earning any longer, and for aging Christians to think of themselves in this way, as if they have no more to do now than have fun, is worldliness in a strikingly intense and, be it said, strikingly foolish form.

 

Along the way, as might be expected, there are many valuable insights into life and theology in general (e.g., the goodness of pleasure, the reality of spiritual warfare, the centrality of hope).

It will be no surprise that this will be a great book for older believers. Churches might buy a bunch of them to give out. What people might not think about is that this is also an excellent book for those who minister to older saints. Here is an older saint telling us what it is like and about the challenges he faces. And here is a godly older man pointing to the gospel truths which are needed to comfort and challenge. Many young pastors feel stymied when needing to speak to older saints, knowing these saints are going through things which they have never encountered. This testimony of an older man will give you a guide to appeal to.

Reality of Christian Experience

This is a guest post from John Thornbury, who is currently Pastor of Worship at Bellepoint Baptist Church in Frankfort, KY. Previously, Bro. John served over 40 years as pastor of Winfield Baptist Church in PA. And, yes, he is the father of Greg.

I appreciated this meditation, and Bro. John was kind enough to let me share it with you.

 

THE HYMN WRITERS

We live in a day when it is increasingly become the vogue to say that the Christian message is a fake and that there is no such thing as a real relationship with God. It has occurred to me that it is very difficult to dispute the reality of a deep love for Jesus — when we read the the testimonies of hymn writers.

I take my stand with the saints (of many different denominations) who experienced rapturous love to Jesus.  Here are some.

Paul Gerhardt, 1607-1676 , (Lutheran) “What language can I borrow, to thank Thee, dearest Friend, For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end.  O Make me thine forever, And should I fainting be, Lord, let me never, never, outlive my love for Thee”.

Isaac Watts 1674-1748, (Congregationalist), “But drops of grief can ne’er repay the debt of love I owe; Here, Lord, I give myself away, ‘Tis all that I can do”.

John Newton , 1725-1807, (Anglican) “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”,

Charles Wesley, 1707-1788 (Methodist), “O for a thousand tongues to sin, my great Redeemer’s praise, The glories of my God and King, The triumphs of His grace!”.

Nicolaus Zinzendorf, 1700-1760, (Moravian) “Jesus Thy blood and righteousness, my beauty are, my glorious dress. Midst flaming worlds in these arrayed, with joy will I lift up my head.”

Frances Havergal 1836-1879 (Anglican) “Take my life and let it be, Consecrated Lord, to thee.  Take my hands and let them move, At the impulse of Thy love.”

William Featherson (1846-1873) (Methodist) “My Jesus, I love Thee, I know thou art mine, for Thee all the follies of sin, I resign; My gracious redeemer, my savior art Thou. If ever I loved thee, Lord Jesus, ‘tis now.”

Samuel Stennett, 1727-1795 (Baptist). “Majestic sweetness sits enthroned. upon the Savior’s brow. His head with radiant glories crowned, his lips with grace o’erflow. No mortal can with him compare among the sons of men, Fairer is he than all the fair who fill the heavenly train.”

Phillip Bliss, 1838-1876 (Presbyterian) “Man of sorrows, what a name, for the Son of God who came, ruined sinners to reclaim, Hallelujah what  a Savior.”

John Peterson, 1921-2006 (non-denominational) “O what a wonderful, wonderful day, day I will never forget, After I’d wandered in darkness away, Jesus my Savior I met, O what a tender compassionate friend, He met the need of my heart; Shadows dispelling, with joy I am telling, He make all the darkness depart.”

Jack Hayford, 1934- (Pentecostal)  “Majesty, worship His majesty unto Jesus be all glory honor and praise; Majesty, kingdom authority, flow from His throne unto His own, His anthem raise. So exalt, lift upon high the name of Jesus, Magnify, come glorify Christ Jesus the king”.

Bill Gaither, 1936- (Church of God). “Shackled by a heavy burden, Neath a load of guilt and shame; Then the hand of Jesus touched me, and now I am no longer the same.  He touched me, O he touched me and O the joy that filled my soul.  Something happened and now I know.  He touched me and made me whole.”

How can anyone read such lines and doubt the reality of the Christian experience?

Preaching Defined in the Psalms

A good definition of preaching!
” My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day, for their number is past my knowledge.
With the mighty deeds of the Lord GOD I will come; I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone”

- Psalm 71:15-16

N T Wright’s Urgent Plea for the Psalms

“This book is a personal plea. The psalms, which make up the great hymnbook at the heart of the Bible, have been the daily lifeblood of Christians, and of course the Jewish people, from the earliest times. Yet in many Christian circles today, the Psalms are simply not used. And in many places where they are still used, whether said or sung, they are often reduced to a few verses to be recited as ‘filler’ between other parts of the liturgy or worship services. In the latter case, people often don’t seem to realize what they are singing. In the former case, they don’t seem to realize what they are missing. This book is an attempt to reverse those trends. I see this as an urgent task.”

-         N. T. Wright, The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential, 1.

Richard Hays’ Critique of the Common English Bible Translation

There seems to be a growing discussion amongst Bible scholars about the shortcomings of Bible translations which try too hard to sound contemporary (See for example Bob Gundry’s critique of Tom Wright’s NT translation from 2 years ago).

This week I came across this essay:

Richard Hays, “Lost in Translation: A Reflection on Romans in the Common English Bible,” in The Unrelenting God: God’s Action in Scripture: Essays in Honor of Beverly Roberts Gaventa (Eerdmans, 2013)

The Common English Bible came out a couple of years ago having been overseen by a more mainline group. In this essay Hays reveals that he and Beverly Gaventa were given the task of writing the first draft of the translation of Romans. However, Hays was particularly disappointed in the translation which was finally published, after being altered by “readability experts.” The rest of his essay is an investigation of what happens when the laudable goal of clarity is reduced to “easy reading” and is not tethered to theological care. There is a warning here for any translation project.

As Hays states, “to turn a magisterial theological reflection such as Romans into an easy-reading text for the average American seventh-grader entails certain modifications, tradeoffs, and sacrifices” (84). I think this is an all too common mistake when the goal is for the “man on the street” to be able to understand the text on his own. As I have argued before, this completely misses the need for the teaching function of the church. There is a basic level of understanding, but we ought to expect any translation of the Bible to have rough edges, difficult portions- precisely because the original has these!- which will require much thought and should drive us to the teachers God has given to the church (Eph 4:11-12).

Hays makes his case with specific examples and pointed, punchy writing.

He states, “The repeated use of contractions and low-intensity everyday diction creates a relaxed conversational tone that lowers the temperature of the discourse.” (85) This is a valuable point because certain texts, like Romans, are not supposed to be breezy. Casual may be the rage in our conversations (as practically all else) today, but that does not mean it is the ideal or that it matches the text we are trying to translate.

Hays critiques the translation of Rom 16:25-27, where “revelation of the mystery” has become “announcement of the secret”, saying, “The CEB’s language would be more fitting to describe, say, a delayed wedding announcement than to designate the apostolic unveiling of the hidden mystery of God’s eternal design for saving the world.” (85)

Romans 1:22 states “they were made fools”, with God as the implied actor, but the CEB says “they made fools of themselves.” Hays notes, “The translation sounds clever, and it is certainly idiomatic English; unfortunately, it obscures Paul’s theological point.” (86)

In Romans 16:13, “Greet Rufus, the  one chosen/elect in the Lord” becomes “Say hello to Rufus, who is an outstanding believer”!

Hays is clear that he is not simply annoyed with how his draft was handled but concerned about a trend in translations.

 “I am drawing attention to this particular translational decision in order to illustrate how the process of translation entails judgments that are deeply theological in character.” (88)

“In an effort to achieve readability, it has not only sacrificed Paul’s stylistic elegance but also subtly obscured the letter’s theological coherence on key points. It has domesticated Paul’s gospel by muting its apocalyptic notes, dulling its sharp emphasis on the priority of God’s action in Christ to effect the justification of humanity, and reducing its rhetorical grandeur to a casual, plodding discourse.” (101)

 

These are important points to consider.

“Somber Doesn’t Sell”: Our Lack of Lament

I just came across this great quote on the lack of laments in most Christian worship settings.

Except for denominations committed to singing every psalm in chant, paraphrase, or hymn, contemporary hymnists and hymnals prefer to celebrate God as creator and thank God as liberator rather than to lament to the God who listens. … Perhaps this selection also says something about the theological climate in the mainstream churches in recent decades. Put in commercial terms, in the competitive denominational marketplace of the twenty-first century, somber doesn’t sell. We prefer to sin and repent, lament and die in silent privacy [emphasis added].[1]

For more on reclaiming lament in worship see Calvin Seerveld, “Why We Need to Learn to Cry in Church: Reclaiming the Psalms of Lament,”in Forgotten Songs: Reclaiming the Psalms for Christian Worship

 

[1] W. Sibley Towner, “Without Our Aid He Did Us Make”: Singing the Meaning of the Psalms,” in A God So Near: Essays on Old Testament Theology in Honor of Patrick D. Miller, ed. Brent A. Strawn and Nancy R. Bowen (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2003), 33.