Monday, May 23, 2011

For Jesus, Did Divorce Entail Remarriage?

In R.T. France's commentary on Matthew (which I highly recommend), he writes about Matthew 5:31-32, where Jesus introduces what many have taken to be the "exception clause" where Jesus supposedly allows the offended party, in the case of adultery, out of their marriage. I have written a paper on the subject, for those interested. Many believe that in Matt. 5:31-32 Jesus may have been allowing for divorce in the case of adultery, but that this in no way implied a right to remarry. The truth is, I do have friends who have divorced because of adultery, and I have taken that position with them, that they ought to remain single, pray for reconciliation, and pray for the strength to remain single. Here is what France says about that position:
Modern discussions of divorce in light of Jesus' teaching sometimes suggest that Jesus recognized the necessity of divorce after adultery, but forbade remarriage. But such a view does not fit the Jewish context, where divorce consisted of the provision of a certificate which explicitly granted the right to remarry; the standard wording, according to [Mishna Gittin] 9:3, was "You are free to marry any man." Without that permission it was not divorce. Divorce and the right to remarry are inseparable, and the Jewish world knew nothing of a legal separation that did not allow remarriage.
So France is arguing that in Jesus' context, to allow divorce was to allow remarriage. If Jesus is introducing an exception here, then He is also allowing for remarriage (and I agree that France's case here is very strong). France appears to believe that the "except for porneia clause" would have been assumed by the readers of Mark and Luke's parallel passages, with that being the reason why no such provision is specifically mentioned in those books. France goes on:
His condemnation of remarriage as adultery is simply on the grounds that the divorce (unless for adultery) was not legitimate and so the original marriage remains valid in the sight of God.
So France holds to a middle-line position which says that all divorce is illegitimate, unless adultery happened, in which case the marriage was forcibly ruined by the guilty party. His position is one which tries to do justice to the teaching of the three gospels that deal with the subject, which I greatly appreciate. France, however, does say that if the ethics of the Kingdom of God are practiced (specifically Jesus' teaching in 5:27-29 on lust and adultery), then in the Kingdom of God there will be no divorce, since adultery and even lust have no place in it. For all intents and purposes, then, divorce is in France's view, prohibited - albeit in a round-about way.

Let me postscript this discussion by saying that if Jesus is not introducing an exception clause in Matt. 5:31-32 or in Matt. 19:8-12, then all of this discussion is superficial. I am quite convinced that James Boice's view on the matter is correct and that Jesus is not here introducing an exception clause, but rather, describing the state into which the woman who has been divorced is placed. If her husband divorce her, then it is assumed she will be remarried, in which case she is then made an adulterer. As I say in my paper, I do not normally like The Message, but it turns out, Eugene Peterson does a pretty good job of broadly paraphrasing the sense that I believe is being taught in Matt. 19:10-12:

If you divorce your wife, you’re responsible for making her an adulteress (unless she has already made herself that by sexual promiscuity). And if you marry such a divorced adulteress, you’re automatically an adulterer yourself.

So I began with the question of whether divorce entailed remarriage, necessarily, for Jesus. I accept France's argument that it did, but I deny that there was ever a situation where Jesus approved of or allowed divorce.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Why Celebrate a Non-Rapture?

Let's just face it right now. As Christians, this hasn't been our best year. If it hasn't been those monsters at Westboro Baptist Church dancing like a bunch of lunatics at soldiers' funerals, then its been Terry Jones doing things that likely resulted in innocent people overseas being killed. Like I said - not the best year. Then, to top it all off, most people don't know that Harold Camping is a schismatic and believe that he speaks for a large section of Christians when he repeatedly attempts to predict the arrival of Christ. Altogether, lets just admit, the Gospel looks pretty foolish in the world's eyes. But then again, what's new? As far as I remember, the Apostle Paul saw that as a given and it didn't phase him.
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18).
True - what they are seeing in Westboro and Jones and Camping are hardly what I would call a robust representation of what Christ was about - but this is what the unbelieving world thinks we're like - whether it's fair or not. We've got to deal with it.

Watching the news coverage and reading the stories about Harold Camping's end of the world which did not transpire, I can't help but sense something. The coverage - as well as the half-joking Facebook statuses and Twitter updates from observers around the world actually seem to reflect more of a collective sigh of relief than it did a confident reaffirmation of something they already knew. I don't believe for one minute that the observers around the world weren't just a little curious if something wasn't going to go down on Saturday night.
Atheists as well as the generically secular speak very confidently that there is no coming day of judgment at all. But then Saturday came, and in many of these places as the clock struck 6 o'clock, there were dances of joy and what I choose to interpret as overwhelming relief. Of course, once the time passed the attitude transformed into one of pure mockery. Instead of mocking Harold Camping for being wrong, it is as if all the world experienced a larger relief and for one brief moment felt assured that there was no coming judgment - as though this one wrongly predicted Rapture proved that there would never be one. In one story, a man jokes, "You haven't partied until you've partied with the godless." For many, this is a time of rejoicing. But why? If you're an atheist, then this is just another false prophet like all the others who've ever lived. What's so special? I think that the partiers fear that there will be a judgment - otherwise, what is there really to celebrate? You celebrate a birthday when you really have one, you celebrate a close brush with death when there was a real threat of dying - and you celebrate the world not ending when there is a real possibility of that, as well.

The sad part is, judgment day is unavoidable. Even if the partiers live for another 80 years, they will meet judgment day - all of us will. Saturday's party will be quite short lived in the scheme of things.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Will "Adventurous Christians" Enjoy The Tree of Life?

I haven't made it much of a secret that I'm very excited about Terrence Malick's film The Tree of Life. My curiosity was certainly piqued when I read this section of one reviewer who saw the film at the Canne film festival.
If it sounds like I'm saying that "The Tree of Life" is a puzzler, that it blends uncanny clarity and extraordinary powers of perception with what sometimes seems like murky, pretentious chaos and that it's suffused with a spiritual and even religious sensibility that will provoke an allergic response in quite a few viewers, you're on the right track....

Actually, the questions Malick is pursuing in "The Tree of Life" are simple, even purposefully naive ones that have plagued human beings since the beginning of time. It's his method of asking and answering them that is both highly aestheticized and likely to provoke controversy. (I won't discuss the end of the film, but implausible as this may sound, "The Tree of Life" may appeal to more adventurous Christian viewers.) They range from "the microscopic story of a family in a small town in Texas" to "the macroscopic story of the birth of the cosmos," as Brad Pitt put it at the press conference.
I know that my many friends who prefer the less artsy and visual films may not appreciate this, after all we Reformed are known for our delight in objective, logical, straightforward facts. However, I could probably be classified as one of those "adventurous Christian viewers" who will probably really appreciate this film. I tend to like Malick's subjective style, and since he is consistently unwilling to do interviews or offer interpretations of his films, I always feel at liberty to read my Christian worldview into his work. Plus, the fact that he does attend an Episcopal church in Texas, where he lives makes me think that there may be a sort of broadly Christian worldview being projected by this film (albeit, one that includes theistic evolution). A review will be forthcoming in a few weeks. Until then, I will wait very impatiently.

Free Puritan Kindle Books, Volume 5

John Owen - The Death of Death in the Death of Christ

St. Anselm - Cur Deus Homo (God Became Man)

St. Augustine - The Confessions

The Divine Right of Church Government by Sundry Ministers

David Dickson - Truth's Victory Over Error

David Dickson - The Sum of Saving Knowledge

George Mueller's Autobiography

Hudson Taylor - Autobiography

John G. Paton - Autobiography

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Free Kindle Books by Bavinck and Ridderbos

I received an email in answer to a query earlier today from Paideia Books about sharing some books by Dutch Reformed scholars, and here was the answer I got:
Our files are provided free of charge as we simply want to give them the widest distribution possible. Therefore, we would be happy to have you format our files into Kindle versions as long as you do not charge for them. We also usually ask that you provide some sort of source acknowledgement. We are pleased that you are interested in our materials. Thank you.

Warmest Regards

Kerry John Hollingsworth


Reformational Publishing Project

And so, here are the books from Paideia which I have ready in Kindle format. I may have more in the future:

Herman Ridderbos - Studies in Scripture & Its Authority

Herman Bavinck - The Certainty of Faith

Free Puritan Kindle Books, Volume 4

A new round of Kindle books. Although technically, Bunyan was the only puritan in this bunch.

W.G.T. Shedd - 20 Sermons to the Natural Man

Abraham Kuyper - Lectures on Calvinism

St. Athanasius - The Incarnation of the Word of God

A.W. Pink - The Sovereignty of God

Zacharias Ursinus - Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism
Let me just say something about the Table of Contents for this book. Frankly, it's not good. The only links in the TOC that you can click are the actual "Questions," around which the commentary is organized. Though it appears you can click links to follow the sub-headings, the links are no good. The book itself is good, and the contents are solid, but the TOC... a second rate performance, on my part. Enjoy, nonetheless!

The Complete Works of John Bunyan (All 3 Volumes)

William Wilberforce - Practical Christianity

Charles Spurgeon - Sermons on Proverbs

The best thank you that we can receive is just a visit to our sponsor at WTS. It's how I'm paying for my books in Seminary.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Free 'Christianity and Liberalism' for the Kindle

Another freebie that I made for myself ages ago. Tim Challies is about to start doing a readthrough of this book, so I thought I might share it with you all.

Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen

This is in .mobi format and works on the Kindle. Just download it to your "documents" folder when you plug your Kindle in. Also, if you appreciate the free book, then please visit our sponsor, Westminster Books. When you follow the link, we get credits to the bookstore so that we can buy more great books to talk about here on the blog.

Free Puritan Kindle Books, Volume 3 (William Perkins Galore)

Here it is - the creme de la creme - some of the hardest books to find on the net - the works of William Perkins in legible English, and all ready for reading on your Kindle.

William Perkins - A Golden Chain

William Perkins - Cases of Conscience

William Perkins - God's Free Grace and Man's Free Will

William Perkins - Hebrews 11 Commentary

William Perkins - Knowing Christ Crucified

William Perkins - Of Man's Imaginations

William Perkins - On Predestination

William Perkins - Salve for a Sick Man

William Perkins - Six Principles

William Perkins - The Art of Prophecying

William Perkins - Witchcraft

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Free Puritan Kindle Books, Volume 2

More Puritan Reading for your pleasure. Actually, we got a little broader than just the Puritans here, but I'm sure you'll forgive. My apologies: although most of these books have working Tables of Contents, not all of them do, for example, Samuel Rutherford's Letters does not have a working Table of Contents. As always, these are Kindle ready, just put them in your Kindle's "Documents" folder.

Martin Luther - Bondage of the Will

John Owen - On the Glory of Christ

Richard Sibbes - The Bruised Reed

Charles Spurgeon - Matthew Commentary

Jerome Zanchi - Confession of the Christian Religion

Thomas Manton - Sermons

Henry Law - The Gospel in the Pentateuch

Walter Marshall - The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification

Thomas Goodwin - Commentary on Ephesians

William Gurnall - The Christian's Complete Armor (3 Vols. Complete)

Samuel Rutherford - Lex Rex

Samuel Rutherford - The Letters of Samuel Rutherford

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Summer Institute for Biblical Languages

Free Puritan Kindle Books, Volume 1

I have made it a habit of creating lots and lots of books, but up until this time I've just used them for myself, since I've had no way of sharing them and hosting the files. To the best of my knowledge, all of the books I am sharing are public domain works and therefore free to distribute. Here is the first batch:

Thomas Boston - Humanity's Fourfold State

James Usher - Body of Divinity

Samuel Rutherford - The Covenant of Life Opened

Richard Sibbes - A Breathing After God

Richard Sibbes - The Sermons of Richard Sibbes (from his Works, Vol. 7)

Thomas Watson - The Doctrine of Repentance

I have created a lot more Kindle books, which I will be sharing in the future.

If you want to say thank you, then please visit our sponsor, Westminster Books off to the left side of our page.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Connections Between the Tree of Life in Revelation and the Psalms

"But his delight is in the law of the Lord...
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither."
(Psalm 1:3)

"Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of the street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations."
(Revelation 22:1-2)
Here is something I've been thinking about with reference to these two verses. I'm not actually taking a stand here and arguing that this is the case, but I want to bounce this idea off of our readers and see what everyone thinks, because I can't find anyone who has ever discussed the relationship between these verses before.

There seems to be an allusion to Psalm 1:3 in the tree of life section of Revelation which I want to understand, but I can't find any commentaries that observe the connection. I'm defining an 'allusion' as when the New Testament refers to the Old Testament using similar imagery and language.

Look at the common features between the two:
  • The river
  • The location of the tree
  • The seasonableness of the fruit
  • The mention of the tree's leaves.
  • Chronologically they are structured the same: (River & Tree, Fruit, Leaves)
Another connection to keep in mind is the eschatalogical natures of Psalm 1 and Revelation 22. The first half of Psalm 1 describes the blessedness of the man who delights in the Lord. But the second half is a contrast where the wicked are described as chaff "which the wind drives away." It is said in verse 5 that the "wicked will not stand in the judgment."

No doubt, as most commentators point out, the river is a reference to Zechariah 14:8. However, there are many mentions of the tree of life in scripture to one degree or another, but none so clear and pronouncedly similar as these two references. As I see it, there are a few possibilities for understanding the nature of a relationship between Psalm 1 and Rev. 22:
  1. The author of Revelation was offering the fullest description of the tree of life possible and found that imagery in Psalm 1:3 but attached no significance meaning beyond imagery.
  2. Since Psalm 1:3 is a reference to the believer, then perhaps Revelation 22 is referring to the Church as the tree.
  3. The parallel usage of the imagery of Psalm 1:3 is coincidental.
  4. The imagery is drawn from many passages (Genesis 2:9-10, Ezekiel 47:12, and Psalm 1:3).
I cannot find any commentaries that see a connection between Rev. 22 and Psalm 1:3, and yet to me it seems undeniable. Option 3 seems completely out of the question. For my own part, I favor the fourth option. It seems to me that the Apostle John, in writing Revelation, was in fact, echoing the description of the tree of Genesis 2:10 but using the description from Psalm 1:3. The question is, how deep is the connection meant to go? The question really is, does the context of Psalm 1:3 carry over when it is quoted by the Apostle John? I guess I'm not prepared to say one way or the other, but if the context did carry over, then Revelation 22 is saying that the Church will be firmly planted along the river of life which flows from the throne, and the church would be bearing fruit for the healing of all the nations. Such an understanding has many applications:
  • The permanence of the Church's place in the new creation.
  • God is the source of her life and fruit.
  • The Church continues to glorify God in her fruitfulness.
  • Applying the eschatalogical nature of Psalm 1 to the tree of life also shows, once again, that the Church has endured while the wicked were carried away like chaff, just as was promised in Psalm 1. God has kept his promise to save His Church and to carry away the wicked in judgment.
I don't necessarily think that this interpretation is harmed by 22:14 which says that the blessed will "have the right to the tree of life." It is possible for the Church to be the tree of life and for the blessed individuals to have the right to that tree.

If someone else has a better understanding of these two verses, I would love to hear it. This is the best I could do without a commentary helping me out. Either way, doesn't it seem like there is enough of a similarity between these two verses that at least someone would have at least mentioned this in a commentary at some point?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Christian Perspective on the Film Black Death

Black Death enjoyed a very limited release in theaters, and very quickly appeared on DVD and Blu-Ray. I was initially a little reticent to see Black Death. Uber-gritty, gory horror-type films just aren't up my alley, and I must admit that after reading some reviews of this film, I decided that this movie was something more than just a cheap exploitation flick. Plus, it looked a little bit like that awful Nick Cage movie Season of the Witch. I went into this film still expecting a disgusting, thoughtless movie and left having enjoyed a complex exploration of religious violence and the things that motivate people - Christian and pagan alike.

[The following trailer has what I would call "PG" language in it at the very beginning]

That's not to say that this film by Christopher Smith is interested in accurately representing the theological motivations of 14th century witch hunters, or that the film is a fair exploration of plague-era European paganism. Instead, this is a movie about the reality that every time we think we find the penultimate wickedness within another, we miss that it is really within our own hearts to at least the same degree.

In the movie, which takes place during the height of the plague, the knight Ulrich is sent by the Church to investigate a village on the edge of a swampland that has not been touched by the plague. Supposedly, the village may be using black magic to keep the disease from encroaching on their town. A monk named Osmund joins the journey, and interestingly enough, he does fit one of the five categories that Think Christian identify as the pastors that you meet in films. I would say he ends up fitting in the "lapsed" category.

[Quasi-Spoilers Follow]

The film follows the journey of this band of warrior saints as they travel to the village and as they discover exactly what they thought they would find - a village of pagans who believe that killing Christians is what has kept the plague at bay. Their leader is a woman who has made them to believe that she has the power to raise the dead as a necromancer. What follows is a torturous final half-hour where the men are taken one-by one and offered chances to renounce the Holy Trinity and be spared.

If you're the type to only watch movies where Christians behave ideally, then this isn't your movie. There are no heroes in this film. The knights are murderous, quick to kill, profane and yet dedicated fundamentalists - the bad kind. The pagans are themselves murderous, blasphemers, openly enemies of God. So in the film who do you root for - the hypocritical Christians or the pagans? Well, neither. Many Christians will disagree with my tolerance for corruption in Christian characters in this movie. However, we don't go to movies to see perfect people in action - we go to see something that reflects the world we live in, that we can relate to. If you're looking for a hero, go to the Gospels and look at Jesus. It's a fact that much of Church history, many Christians have not met his example. We ought not to deny or shy away from this fact.

In the case of Black Death, this film pits one form of fundamentalism against another and shows that if Christians fight the world using the world's weapons, they may win, but their whole cause will be shipwrecked. What is the point in a man who nobly refuses to recant if, after he survives, he lives to murder a hundred women as "witches" out of vengeance? Where is the virtue in a village that lives at peace and yet openly mocks and blasphemes the God of Heaven? In this film, everyone is a loser. I guess I'm okay with that portrayal, since I'm a Calvinist. Humanity's heart is dark and desperately wicked. No doubt the sort of atrocities we see in this film occurred in some form or another throughout history. This is not a condemnation of the Church, in my opinion, but a condemnation of mankind.

Here is my caution: the movie is grisly and gory. It's a hard "R" rating. There is some language. It isn't Pulp Fiction, but it's not The Care Bears, either. There is no sex or nudity, but once again, things get very violent. Heads get chopped off, limbs are torn off, and it is done in a brutal fashion - very much unlike the PG-13 violence in Lord of the Rings. This movie tells a thought-provoking story that will give thinking Christians plenty to chew on, but churches aren't exactly going to rent out whole theaters to watch this movie. Put another way: this film is not the next Fireproof.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

45% Off The Reformed Expository Commentary Series

I have no idea how long this is going on for, but right now, you can get 45% off any volume from the Reformed Expository Commentary series. Some of them cost less than $10.00 right now, and I don't know how long the prices are going to stay down like this.

The occasion for this sale, as I understand it, is the release of a new volume in the series on 1 Kings by Philip Graham Ryken. At over 600 pages, this is a pretty substantive volume. At 45% off, this may be the best time to grab the volume.

So here are some of the best deals, as I'm able to break it down:

You get 52% off, if you want to buy every volume in the series.
Esther and Ruth for $9.89
James for $10.99
Galatians for $13.75

Monday, May 9, 2011

We Need a Right Understanding of Baptism

Would sentimentalism and saccharine emotions dominate congregations if they realized that a person is baptized into the death of Christ? Would characterizations of baptism solely as man's pledge to God dominate if churches realized that baptism is God's visible covenant promise when accompanied by the Word? Would as many languish in their struggles with a lack of assurance were their baptisms to echo throughout their lives - the echo of the sign and seal of the covenant promises of God in Christ? Would so many flippantly approach baptism or disregard it if they recognized that it is the objective, double-edged, blessing-and-sanction revelation of God? A biblical doctrine of baptism is crucial for the edification of the church and the glory of the triune Lord.
J.V. Fesko
Word Water and Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on Baptism
Page 11

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Feeling Duplicitous is Nothing New

Madam,-I would have written to your Ladyship ere now, but people's believing there is in me that which I know there is not, hath put me out of love with writing to any. For it is easy to put religion to a market and public fair; but, alas! it is not so soon made eye-sweet for Christ.

My Lord seeth me a tired man, far behind. I have gotten much love from Christ, but I give Him little or none again. My white side cometh out on paper to men; but at home and within I find much black work, and great cause of a low sail, and of little boasting...My peace is that Christ may find outing and sale of His wares, in the like of me; I mean for saving grace.

Samuel Rutherford
Letter to Lady Boyd, 1637

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Free D.A. Carson eBook

D.A. Carson's book Love in Hard Places is being hosted for free at The Gospel Coalition. If you're a fan of PDFs, then you better snap it up while it's there. For my own part, I'll probably put the foot work into getting it formatted for my Kindle.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Are Mormons Christians?

In light of my last post, I thought this video was fitting.

Free from Amazon: A Praying Life by Paul Miller

Amazon has, for today only, Paul Miller's book A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World. The foreword was written by David Powlison, whose insights I have really appreciated in years past.

Tim Challies actually wrote a review of this book, giving it four out of five stars. Here was his recommendation of the book:
Perhaps the greatest strength of this book is Miller's unrelenting emphasis that prayer cannot be an add-on to the Christian life; it cannot be supplemental but must always be instrumental. This book will equip you to understand prayer properly and, on that firm foundation, to commit yourself to it, with confidence that God is willing and able to hear and answer your prayers.
According to another reviewer,
[Miller] honestly and precisely identifies the barriers to prayer - a short attention span, guilt, inconsistency, and weak attempts to follow a formula that would somehow make my prayers acceptable to God. Yet his winsome way of presenting these problems are not a condemnation of our failures, but are actually an encouragement not to give up.
I'm always joking that I'm borderline ADD, so perhaps this book will have some helpful encouragements for me in the area of paying attention when I'm trying to pray.

As always, you can download the book to your wireless device or your computer itself and read it, even if you don't have a Kindle.

Tim Challies' The Next Story Free for Download

Christian Audio has The Next Story by Tim Challies for free. If you've got kids like me, it's sometimes hard to get any books read, and that's why audiobooks are such a treasure. I am currently reading the physical hardback copy of the book (which you can still find at Westminster for 36% off). I'm about a hundred pages in or so, and plan on writing my own review in the near future. So far in the book, I've read Tim's history of technology, and especially social networking and found his assessment of the place of technology in God's world to be very edifying. I highly recommend this book - from what I've read, anyway.