Thursday, May 31, 2012

Ridderbos on "Israel" in Romans 11:25-32

The perennial question for interpreters of Romans 11:25-32 is, what does Paul mean when he says, "and in this way, all Israel shall be saved"?  More specifically, the question is, what is meant by "all Israel"?  Doug Moo helpfully narrows the possibilities down to three:
(1) the community of the elect, including both Jews and Gentiles;
(2) the nation of Israel;
or (3) the elect within Israel.
The first view is actually Calvin's view, and it is a tempting view, primarily because it does justice to Paul's spiritualization of Israel ("Not all Israel is of Israel").  It strikes me as being a knee-jerk reaction to the dispensational tendency to make every reference to "Israel" in the Bible a reference to ethnic Israel.  However, there are problems with this view - namely, it redefines Israel from the way Paul has been using it up until this point (for Paul up to this point, "Israel" has an obviously ethnic flavor to it) through Romans.  Herman Ridderbos proposes to defend the third view - one which most interpreters of Romans 11 do not give much consideration.  Before I get into this any further, I wish to list a few defenders of the view Ridderbos is about to enunciate: Berkhof, Bavinck, Volbeda, Hendricksen, O. Palmer Robertson, and Gaffin.

A few years ago, Richard Gaffin did an informal translation of Ridderbos on this subject.  Until I came to RTS I did not have access to it because the RTS Jackson library is the only place where this translation of Ridderbos is available to read.  In his discussion of this question, Ridderbos argues that "Israel" in Romans 11:25-32 refers to the whole number of the elect out of Israel.  He offers several reasons:

1)  "It must be considered exceedingly strange that the apostle here discloses a major eschatological event in five words without going into it further with a single word or ever alluding to it elsewhere."

2) "The complete conversion of Israel at the end of in an eschatological respect entirely incomprehensible, does not fit any one eschatological scheme, and also is not at all made clear by a single exegete..."  Recall that for Paul in 11:25, the mystery which Paul refers to is that the fulness of the Gentiles must first come in before the fulness of the Jews.  In other words, Ridderbos does not know of a eschatological view which allows for an "interim between the entrance of one-half of mankind into the kingdom of God and the final end of the world".

3) "Not one word is said about the conversion of all Israel after the fulness of the gentiles has entered.  Paul does not say: afterward all Israel will be converted, but: and so in this way, all Israel will be saved...So then, it is not a matter of a national conversion still to take place at some time in the future; no, then when the fulness of the gentiles enters, then all Israel also will be saved."

4) "In Romans 9-11 Paul undoubtedly speaks again and again of Israel's conversion as the condition of Israel's salvation.  By that he has in view exclusively a conversion of Israel in history, not in post-history.  Israel must be provoked to jealousy now...All this zeal, this intense longing to save even if it were only a few through his work is difficult to understand if at the same time the apostle expected over the short or long term the conversion of all Israel as the fruit of one great eschatological event.  Rather it appears that the apostle sees no other way for Israel's conversion than through the preaching of the gospel in history."

5) "The whole notion of a national conversion of Israel in the end time makes the overall thrust of Romans 9-11 nonsensical and completely strange."  Ridderbos goes on to ask whether those Jews who lived prior to the mass-conversion were not also Israel.  Unless one becomes a universalist, he observes, "one is placed before the necessity in maintaining the national conception of 'all Israel' to limit this national restoration to that part of the Jewish nation that will still be found to exist at the end of the days.  But then on this basis can Paul or anyone else maintain that God is keeping his promise to (national) Israel?"

6) "The national conception of 'all Israel" in conflict with what Paul has just demonstrated in Romans 9, namely, that not all are Israel who are descended from Israel.  Paul thus challenges just such a national conception of Israel as God's elect people.  His entire argument is directed toward demonstrating that the true Israel is hidden in the national Israel as the kernal in the shell...It would certainly be very strange if the apostle would subsequently reconsider this view and would present the matter as if God's promise to Israel will only be fulfilled, when what is left of the nation at the end of the days will repent and be saved in its entirety."

In summary, Ridderbos says, "The expression 'all Israel' comprises the same thing quantitatively as what already in verse 12 is called 'the fulness' of Israel, just as 'the fulness' of the gentiles spoken of in verse 25 can also be expressed, in the light of verse 32, by all gentiles or the whole of heathendom."

For the Reformed Among Us

I came across these great pint glasses the other day and thought I would pass it along to our readers. They can be purchased here and would make a wonderful gift for Adam (or me).

Friday, May 25, 2012

Why I Abandoned Pacifism

I try not to be too biographical here at the blog, but when I do, I try to be brief.  I spent several years defending full-on pacifism.  I believed that all violence (poorly defined) is evil, that self-defense is never justified, and that it was pragmatism (married to the state - what Yoder called "Constantinianism") which prompted the modern church, by and large, to teach that self-defense can ever be justified. I believed that the Sermon on the Mount (as well as Paul's words in Romans 12) was a sort of stumbling block which the church has refused to take seriously for centuries.  I also refused to accept any distinction between the man as an individual and the man acting in behalf of the state.

In recent years, I abandoned these views.  I want to list (and briefly describe) the unresolved tensions which I believed I would be able to, but was never actually able to overcome.

1.  The Historical Challenge
God commanded violence.  Plain and simple.  Whatever a pacifist believes, they must have some way of understanding and coping with this fact.  How does God's commands in the OT coalesce with peaceful Jesus meek and mild that so many see in the NT?  Throughout the Old Testament, God commands violence - whether it be the cleansing of Caanan or simply enforcement of civil and ceremonial laws by the use of the sword.  In fact, God often punished men such as Saul who left any alive.  When I held to pacifism, I believed that a solution to this problem would involve some sort of dichotomy between the church before Christ and the church after Christ.  I theorized some sort of ethics by which it was right for God to command violence for the sake of the creation of the Israelite theocracy.  This would establish a religious environment in which Christ could perfectly fulfill the law on behalf of his people and die as a sacrifice on their behalf.

For years I believed I was on the right track, but there were serious problems.  For starters, I was positing a time when God could command violence for the sake of a greater good.  And yet this was the same ethical position which I was being so critical of.  How could pragmatism be okay for God, and yet not for his people?  In the end, I was driven to a divine command theory of ethics, whereby God's will is what is determinative of right and wrong.  Thus, I argued that it must have been right for God to command violence before Christ, and the arrival of the Messiah heralded in a new age in which all violence now becomes wrong.  Since God decides what is right and wrong, this did not seem to be a problem.  Unfortunately (or you might say, fortunately), systematic problems arise given this theory, which I will touch on in the next point.

This divine command position also had it's problems, and while I won't go into it, I became convinced that God determines right and wrong by his will, in accordance with His nature.  Something cannot be wrong one day and right another.  In other words, if violence is truly wrong, then it has always been wrong.  I came to see that violence must be an outworking of God's justice, which is a love of Himself and His own glory.  It was absurd for me to believe that violence is truly wrong in any and all situations without acknowledging a disconnect between the holiness of God and the holiness He expects from His people.  I refused to disconnect the character of God from ethics, and that was one of the reasons why I abandoned pacifism.

2.  The Systematic Challenge
As an advocate of Reformed theology, I believed (and still believe) in penal substitutionary atonement.  I was not (and am not) willing to give that up.  The challenge I faced was formulating an understanding of the atonement which saw the violence perpetrated against Christ as being immediately bad and yet ultimately good because of the end which it accomplished.  I believed that Christ died only to secure the salvation of "those believing," as John 3:16 says.  Christ's intent in coming was not merely to remove violence from the world, but to take the sin upon himself and face the death which that sin required.  If violence is always wrong, as pacifism posits, then how could any violence be of any ultimate good?  Pacifists have seen this problem and actively encourage other pacifists to reject penal substitutionary atonement.  There is a reason for this.  One cannot have an acceptable view of the atonement without rejecting pacifism.  One branch of our theology affects all the others.

In order to be systematically consistent, pacifism must understand Christ as a victim and totally passive in his suffering.  Reformed theology teaches that Christ was not only passively obedient to the Father, but that he was also actively obedient in his incarnation, life, and death.  It is widely acknowledged that Christ could have ended his suffering with one word to the heavenly hosts.  I saw it as impossible that Christ could have ended his sufferings at his own whim and yet that he was totally passive in his sufferings.  Of course he was not.  He willingly suffered and received the justice of his people upon himself. This was of his and the Father's design before the foundation of the world.  I had no room in my system for Christ as absolute victim and absolute designer of the violence perpetrated upon Himself.  Even if we understand the evil Christ suffered as being designed in God's providence (like all of the evil in the world), surely Christ's suffering was more than providential.  The violence done to him was immediately evil but ultimately good.

The second systematic problem arose from the discontinuity of the divine command position I discussed above.  If something so fundamental to the preservation of the common kingdom as violence was right before Christ came, how could it now be bad?

John Howard Yoder has discussed some solution to this.  He says that the violence of the OT was done by God (it is His right as the Creator, I suppose) and that God did not demand that the Israelites kill their enemies, but rather that God would fight for them.  That God would destroy their enemies, if only they would wait upon Him.  In much of Yoder's OT exegesis, I think He is right.  His book The Politics of Jesus points out that God did, in fact, fight for his people and that He promised to "go before them" into their battles.  Many non-pacifists don't seem to notice this.  However, this solution of Yoder's does not cover many of the violences in the OT.  I point the reader, again, to Saul's refusal to kill every living thing and God's anger at this refusal.  I would also point to God's command that various offenders of civil laws be executed.  Pacifists largely argue that even punishing murder with execution is wrong and "unchristian."

In the end, solving the pacifism problem created numerous systematic problems - the worst of which was a massive discontinuity between the Old and New Testament.  I could not maintain my covenant theology and at the same time argue that something so major as violence has been completely done away with in the service of the common kingdom.

3.  The Biblical Challenge
These arguments all bleed together, somewhat.  However, there were specific Biblical passages which I struggled to understand.  Romans 13 is one example.  In order to deal with the difficulties of Paul calling the state, who wields the sword, a "minister for good," I pointed out that Romans 13 is descriptive rather than prescriptive. The passage says that he is a minister for good, not that he ought to be one, and it says that he does it while wielding the sword, but does not say that it is good for him to wield the sword.  I do not know how I was able to do such textual gymnastics for so many years.  It is pathetic to think of.  In summary, it is entirely impossible, as far as I'm concerned, to in the same sentence describe what someone does (which one knows to be evil) and then call that person doing this evil thing (in this case wielding the sword) a "minister for good."  It makes no sense for Paul to point out something that he believes to be wrong and then to declare the one that does it "a minister for good."

Another Biblical event which I was deeply troubled by was Jesus' cleansing of the temple.  John 2:13-16 records Jesus doing several things which I found inconsistent with an absolute pacifist position.
  • Making a whip
  • Driving the moneychangers out
  • Driving their animals out
  • Pouring out the coins
  • Overturning the tables
My best solution to incorporating these activities into my understanding Christ was to argue that this was not violence, properly defined.  Surely Jesus did not actually touch anyone's body and cause them pain, I argued.  Surely Jesus did not actually hurt anyone.  And yet even if these arguments are perfectly accurate they disregard the real heart of what violence is.  I remember reading various pacifists who claimed that violence really starts in the heart.  It is about refusing to accept the world as God has made it and taking the bull by its horns, molding the world to our liking, even against the grain of the universe.  If Christ was not doing this in his activities at the temple, then I don't know what violence would look like.  It is self-evident that Jesus is attacking people, animals, and institutions - and doing it physically.  A full-fledged pacifist has to either argue that Jesus did not use violence, or else argue that Jesus is allowed to do things that we are not allowed to do.  And yet the example of Christ is a huge driving force in pacifist preaching.  "Look to the example of Christ - follow the example of Christ... Be imitators of Christ's peacefulness and unwillingness to do violence..."  The cleansing of the temple was a huge stumbling block for me - one that it might be argued I never found an answer to.

Christians - especially, it seems, American Christians - seem a bit trigger-happy. I have buckets full of anecdotes from where I live and conversations I have with the many Christians around me who live here in Kansas. Many often will resort to violence, even when it is not a last resort.  Glorification of guns and violence and harming one's neighbor are ubiquitous.  One need only watch an hour or so of evening television to realize just what a passe thing violence has become.  We take it for granted in the extreme.  It is also not hard to see that we are becoming more and more desensitized to the violence around us.  Christians, of all people, should know that justice is important, but that we ought to be quicker at dolling out grace in our interactions with everyone.  We ought not to disregard Paul's words in Romans 12.  We should not return evil for evil, but return evil with good, thus heaping burning coals upon our enemy's head.  Absolute pacifism may not be a tenable position, but that doesn't mean that it is Christian to walk around like Judge Dredd, striking down evildoers wherever they stand.  Violence is not to be celebrated by Christians, but lamented.  After all, unlike marriage, violence didn't exist until after the fall.  It is not "good" in the same sense that matrimony is "good."

There is more to be said, but I'm also not promising any future installments.  I just wanted to lay out in a simple fashion some of my reasons for rejecting pacifism.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Homosexuality, Tattoos, and Ceremonial Laws

From Twitter:

Tattoo of Leviticus 18:22 forbidding homosexuality: £200. Not knowing that Leviticus 19:28 forbids tattoos: Priceless.
The world is full of people who choose to misunderstand the moral claims that Christians make.  However, it is also full of Christians who come by their ethical views through faulty methodology.  Christians do not (or at least should not) believe that homosexual activity is wrong primarily because of the fact that it was forbidden in Leviticus.  We believe it is wrong, first, because of the Scriptures' positive teachings on what is good, what is right, and how God created human beings to live.  This goes back to the original good creation before the fall when God instituted marriage and created a woman specifically for the man and called it good.  Jesus affirmed the goodness of the original creation and the goodness of marriage in Matthew 19:5 when he stated what marriage is: "He who created them from the beginning made them male and female and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' "

The Christian ethical position on homosexual behavior (which has been unwaveringly consistent) is rooted first in God's will, it is evident to all via the natural law and then further confirmed by what we find in the Scriptures, but these are things which have been so from the beginning.  The question of what place Leviticus 19:28 still holds in terms of the moral law and whether it is part of the moral law or the ceremonial law is a worthwhile discussion, but even if Leviticus 18:22 is in the same book as other laws which are no longer binding is not debatable.  It absolutely is.  However, the basis of the belief that the ceremonial laws and laws of uncleanness have been revoked is, in part, Acts 11, where Peter received the revelation of God which separated the Jewish and Gentile Christians by the ceremonial laws of cleanness and uncleanness.  There are reasons why Christians can eat cheeseburgers and orthodox Jews won't get near the stuff.

There is no doubt that many laws in the OT were revoked, and it could very well be that tattoos are part of that.  Either case, I congratulate King Cogidubnus on a well-placed punch.  That's funny stuff.  I love irony as much as the next fella, which is why I try to always read Romans 12:1 while eating a Baconator.

72 Hour Sale: Last Book of the Series

Some of you may be interested in this.  IVP has been working on this old testament series for quite a few years, and the last volume is now complete.  I wanted to bring to your attention that this last volume is on sale for a limited time for 50% off, but the sale only lasts 72 hours.  These are somewhat pricy volumes when they aren't on sale, so I would recommend striking while the iron is hot.  Also, if you buy two or more copies, the discount is actually 60% off.

Tremper Longman III says that "all the articles give an up-to-date description of the state of the art on a particular topic... I highly recommend this volume for all students of the Bible, in particular students, clergy and scholars."  Others have also commented on the up-to-date nature of these books - from an evangelical perspective.  You can get the book (and find other volumes from the rest of the series) at Westminster Books.

It's also worth noting that you can buy the complete OT set and the complete NT set right now for 50% off as well.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Poster Boys of Campus Calvinism Are Back In Town

As I was preparing for the move to Jackson, MS, I started digging through old boxes from my days of attending college with Josh Walker.  Low and behold, look at what I found from our campus newspaper!

Four of the four men in the image would eventually attend Reformed Theological Seminary - and I will be there in exactly one week, God-willing.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Book Review: God is Love by Gerald Bray

It's hard to read a book on it's own merits, because you don't read a book tabula rasa, without any prejudice or expectations.  It's hard to read that way, and it's hard to review that way, and so I only offer a brief preface before reviewing Gerald Bray's book God is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology. Bray's book is not written for me.

Gerald Bray begins God is Love by stating that the "main purpose of this book is to set out what God has revealed to us."  A fine purpose, if I do say so. His aim, however, is what will make the book either make or break for most readers. He says it "is to reach those who would not normally find systematic theology appealing or even comprehensible."  He goes on: "Technical terminology has been avoided and the concepts underlying it have been explained as simply and directly as possible."  Up front, I will say, then, that in terms of contemporary systematics, I'm definitely more of a "Michael-Horton's-The-Christian-Faith" man myself.  But this book wasn't written for me. And so I will try to review it for what it is, in the context of what it intends to be.

One of my favorite things about Bray's book is that it begins with God's own inter-Trinitarian self-love and then moves from there out to His own love of humanity.  The structure of Bray's work left me delighted.  I like that Bray has a somewhat presuppositional approach to apologetics and arguing for the truths of Scripture.  Of course, he avoids the familiar language, but in the end it is unmistakeable.  Another winning aspect of the book is that Bray speaks in a way which is not overly-technical.  If you put each chapter of Bray's book up against other contemporary STs - say - Michael Horton's The Christian Faith, you would reckon that Bray is writing for a non-technical crowd.  In Bray's introduction he indicates a desire to write a book which could communicate the truths of God in a cross-cultural way to both Westerners and to those in the growing church in the southern hemisphere.  The book reads like it would translate very well into other languages because the language is intentionally simplistic.  It is for this same reason that I think most people in the church who are not "theo-geeks" would benefit a great deal from Bray's work.

While there are manifold positive aspects to God is Love, there appear to be a few missed opportunities for a richer discussion.  At the beginning of chapter 12 he says, "Why God created the universe is a question the Bible neither asks nor answers.  For the writers of Scripture, it was enough to know that God created the universe for his own purposes, but what those purposes might be remained a mystery" (225). That thudding sound was of Jonathan Edwards rolling over in his grave. There is a sense in which Bray is certainly correct, regarding the mystery of God's purposes, but in another sense he misses a profound opportunity to explain God's own revealed love of His own glory and His desire to put that glory on display by showing forth his manifold attributes via creation.  He also has a subsection in that chapter called "The Purpose of Creation," and while he discusses creation as a "testing ground" for humanity, he misses, once again, the overarching purpose of God's glory.  In a Systematic Theology which purports to be centered around the idea of God's love, it is disappointing that God's own self-love as the purpose of creation remains somewhat out of the limelight.

Also, Bray's discussion of "hearing the voice of God" isn't exactly my cup of tea.  He leaves open possibility of God's giving further "private" revelation beyond what is written in Scripture but differentiates between "private" and "public" revelations.  Rightly, he admits that if God were to speak to an individual, that revelation would not be for the wider church (65).  He's not exactly Wayne Grudem in this respect, and I don't see Bray standing up and telling us to publicly prophecy in tongues, but I still would have appreciated some discussion of the closing of the canon and its relationship to cessation of new revelation.  In his conclusion of this section, Bray says that if someone thinks it is God speaking, they should test whether it is Scriptural, and if it is not opposed by Scripture, he says the only way to know if it is from the Lord is to follow through on it and see how it pans out.  But sometimes God commanded people in the OT to do things which resulted in their personal pain or perceived "failure." (I think of the poor prophet Hosea, for instance.) I would propose that no matter how the situation pans out, such a person could not be able to know whether it was really God speaking to them.  Now I will digress.

Some nit-picking: I’m not a fan of putting Bible references in the footnotes.  This is a personal preference, but then again, this is a personal review.  I like to be able to read the page and skim for Bible references, and while the footnote style does de-clutter the text, it makes finding the place where the reference appeared a bit more challenging.

The blurbs on the back of God is Love seem to imply that this is a book for theological beginners.  One reviewer described this as a book for those “intimidated by theology books.”  They hit the nail on the head, and I really can’t improve on that description.  I thought of many of my friends while I read this book, and I plan on sharing this book with those around me who aren’t as schooled in theological terminology and contemporary discussions.

The book is described as being a "Biblical Systematic Theology," but in my opinion it does tend much more towards being Biblical Theological, with less interaction with differing perspectives than one might have expected.  If you want exhaustive bibliographies and lists of people who hold this or that view, Bray’s book is not what you’re looking for.  This book is less a reference material and more of a straight reader.

Those of us who tend to get tucked into the complicated theological debates from time to time could take quite a few cues from God is Love. Not only has Bray admirably worked to make this book comprehensible to a broad audience, but in my opinion he has done it quite well and with no lack of clarity. Bray's book is not a niche book and will hopefully receive broad attention in the evangelical world.

In spite of the negative things I’ve had to say about the book, if it is taken on its own merits, it’s really quite good.  After all, it was written by an Anglican for a broadly evangelical audience, and with the intention of being read and understood in a broader way by the global church.  With that intention in mind, I think God Is Love is quite good and admirably fits its Biblical/Systematic Theological niche.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Sermons of William Still Now Available!

As I understand it, the audio of sermons of William Still have been somewhat of a difficult thing to get one's hands on - until now.  I had always heard that his sermons were kept under lock and key in some vault below the earth in some salt mine with a guard at the door.  Apparently these were mere legendary tales.  Over at Monergism, they have made 140 of Still's sermons available.  You can get to the directories for these sermons by following the links below:

Genesis (44 Part Series [Added 5/23/12]
1 Samuel (25 Part Series)
2 Samuel (19 Part Series) [Added 5/ 21/12]
On The Gospel According to Luke (79 Part Series)
On the Prophet Daniel (12 Part Series)
On the Psalms (24 Part Series)
Hosea (11 Part Series) [Added 5/31/12]
The Prophecy of Isaiah (47 Part Series)  [Added 5/18/12]
Judges (14 Part Series) [Added 7/12/12]
2 Peter (14 Part Series) [Added 5/31/12]
Micah (7 Part Series) [Added 6/27/12]
Nehemiah (14 Part Series) [Added 7/18/12]
James (13 Part Series) [Added 5/31/12]
Acts (35 Part Series) [Added 5/31/12]
Colossians (14 Part Series) [Added 5/31/12]
The Gospel According to John (54 Part Series) [Added 5/31/12]
Hebrews (37 Part Series) [Added 5/31/12]
1 Corinthians (26 Part Series) [Added 5/31/12]
Joshua (23 Part Series) [Added 5/31/12]
Leviticus (22 Part Series) [Added 5/31/12]
Zechariah (14 Part Series) [Added 5/31/12]
Ezra (10 Part Series) [Added 7/18/12]
Romans (19 Part Series) [Added 6/1/12]
2 Timothy (4 Part Series) [Added 6/1/12]
Psalms 25-45 & 120-134 [Added 8/8/12]
Proverbs (33 Part Series) [Added 6/5/12]
Ecclesiastes (12 Part Series) [Added 6/5/12]
1 Thessalonians (9 Part Series) [Added 6/7/12]
Zechariah (14 Part Series) [Added 6/19/12]
1 Kings (22 Part Series) [Added 6/20/12]
2 Kings (22 Part Series) [Added 6/20/12]
Galatians (16 Part Series) [Added 6/20/12]
Ephesians (13 Part Series) [Added 7/11/12]
Philippians (12 Part Series) [Added 7/13/12]
1 Peter (8 Part Series) [Added 7/14/12]
Revelation (24 Part Series) [Added 7/14/12]

Guidance Series
The Devil Series
The Life and Work of Paul
Bible Character Studies
The Ten Commandments
What is it to be a Christian?
The Atonement of Christ
An Exposition of the Westminster Confession (27 Part Series) [Added 5/31/12]
There are also 10 sermons of Still's available over at SermonAudio.

While you are at it, if you have no familiarity with William Still, I might recommend beginning with his books The Work of the Pastor and Towards Spiritual Maturity.

Spend Less Time on Your Computer (and More on Your iPod/iPad)

The last year has been full of transitions.  One of the biggest transitions was moving from Windows to Mac.  I know, I know, I'm very trendy like that.  If hipsters are defined by their love of things before they are cool, then I am the anti-hipster when it comes to computers.  Anyway, as I've transitioned to an all-Mac household, I've accrued some time-saving programs and methods that I've used to minimize how much time I spend in front of the actual computer.  And so, without any sense of organization, and totally out of any kind of order, I present to you my favorite time-saving apps.

Pocket (formerly Read It Later)
One of the best apps that has helped me spend less time at the computer is Pocket.  This fancy little program can be integrated into your home browser.  After you sign up for a free account with them, you can install a user-created browser add-on (Chrome or Firefox) so that if you want to save a page to Pocket, you just right click and choose "Read It Later."  It's that easy.  The program builds a list of the webpages that you are saving.

You can then install Pocket (again, for free) on your iPod or iPad.  When you activate Pocket each time, it automatically downloads all of the webpages you saved to your device.  Now, even if you leave the comfort of Wi-Fi you can read the stories you saved at your leisure - or whenever you have a dull moment.  It has helped me to get that big screen out of my face in the mornings reading news and my favorite blogs... and replace it with a smaller screen.

I don't want to spend too much time lobbying for this.  If you have a Mac or iOS device, then you're already used to Apple waving this feature in front of your face every chance they get.  Either this is your kind of thing, or it's not.  If you have two or more Apple devices and a lot of music to manage, this is, plain and simple, something you should have.  It costs $25 a year, and Apple basically takes care of all your music.  When you sign up, any music in iTunes gets confirmed with the cloud (in some cases it gets uploaded if they don't already have it somewhere in the cloud).  You can almost instantly listen to that music on any of your devices, assuming you've got wi-fi in the vicinity.  No more plugging in your iPod to manage your music, and if your computer ever has a hard drive disaster, you've still got your music.

Tip: Apple only backs up files that are 96kbps or higher bitrate.  This is a problem if you're Reformed and love sermons since most sermon audio files are pretty low bitrate.  My solution is to upconvert the files from 64 or 32kbps (or whatever they are) to 96kbps.  Now I have Martin Lloyd-Jones with me, even in the cloud.  It's a bit sneaky, but it does work.  The same goes for my Max McLean ESV audio Bible.

Instacast ($0.99)
One of the annoyances I have with iOS 5 is that it doesn't allow for wi-fi podcast management.  And so even if you are using iMatch to keep and organize your music, you still have to plug your iPod into the computer to keep your podcasts up to date. Enter Instacast. This program is a fantastic podcast manager that tells you each time there are new episodes of your favorite programs like The Dividing Line or Christ the Center. If you are using iMatch and you also have Instacast, it is possible that you will never need to plug your iPod into your computer again (you'll still have to charge it somewhere, though.  No app for that yet).

This is my go-to Bible software.  If you have Accordance on your mac already, then you already know about this program.  However, even if you aren't already an Accordance user, you can still benefit from the iOS version.  The initial app comes with the ESV and WEB translations of the Bible, fantastic search functions, and other features.  If you sign up for a free Accordance online account at Accordance's web site, you get other features added to your Accordance app such as the KJV Bible, the 1901 ASV, Greek & Hebrew Strong's Dictionaries, and other stuff that I won't list here.  Accordance is great, even if you don't want to shell out $1000 for the Cadillac package.

The Reformed Forum
I love listening to The Reformed Forum.  When I'm at home and have wi-fi, I listen to the show with this app.  The only downside is that it doesn't allow downloading so that you can use it when you're out of wi-fi range, which is why I tend to use Instacast to listen to the show.  Still, this is a solid app and a great way to listen to a fantastic podcast.

Tiny Wings
Because it's so addictive.  (This won't save you any time.  It will waste it.)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Danny Hyde Book on Infant Baptism: $3

For the next week, until 5/22, Westminster Books will be selling Danny Hyde's new book on infant baptism for the astonishing price of $3. Considering that it sells for basically $10 at Amazon, this is a great deal. Carl Trueman says of the book that "this would be my top recommendation as an introduction to the issues and a clear exposition of the Bible's teaching." Sorry to do this two days in a row, but no denying it's a good deal. Get it here.

You can listen to Danny Hyde and the gang from Christ the Center discussing this issue here.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Bavinck Bio 50% Off!

I just wanted to alert our readers that there is a fantastic biography of Herman Bavinck on sale right now at WTS for 50% off.  Don't miss it.  You can get it here.

While you're at it, there's a great book on justification for 60% off as well.  It's also at Westminster Books.

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Perfect Version of The Reformed Creeds?

Have you ever thought to yourself, "Gee... I like my hardbound Westminster Standards, and I also like my hardbound copy of the Three Forms of Unity, but I sure would like them all together in one volume, and I'd sure like to be able to lay them out flat on the table without laying an encyclopedia along the top edge so it will lay open flat"?

If so, I present to you my favorite new copy of the Ecumenical and Reformed Creeds and Confessions:

It won't win any awards for sexiness.  Steve Jobs won't sing your praises from the grave for the beauty of its design.  However, it is amazing.  Gaze upon its beauty.

As if the always-lays-flat design weren't already extremely useful, check out the tabs on the side allowing you to quickly load your weapon of choice.

This particular print is printed at Mid-America Reformed Seminary and been around since 1991, so I'm hardly the first person to own this.  However, I've found it hard to believe that people have not been singing this volume's praises from the mountaintops before now.

It has a preface by Nelson Kloosterman, and it contains The Apostles' Creed, The Nicene Creed, The Athanasian Creed, The Form of Subscription, The Belgic Confession, The Heidelberg Catechism (with Scripture proofs), The Canons of Dort, The Westminster Confession, The Larger Catechism, and the Shorter Catechism.

There is only one downside, and that is the absence of scripture proofs in the Westminster Standards section.  Such would have been invaluable for devotional reading purposes.  However, these are small qualms considering the richness of this volume.  It is not perfect, but it is... nearly perfect.  I commend it to you, and I wish to thank Dave Alexander from my church for giving this to me.  He saw how much I admired it and gave it to me out of grace and kindness, from one brother in the Lord to another.

You can find this copy of the Reformed Creeds here.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Love the Truth and Speak It

The ninth Commandment: "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor."

In the simplest possible terms, this commandment is saying that we are not only to abstain from saying things which are not true, but that we are to be lovers and promoters of the truth.

Truth is an important theme in Scripture.  The word appears 252 times, 163 of which are in the New Testament.  Close to half of these references to "true" or "truth" are by Jesus Himself.  Often when Jesus spoke he would simply precede his statements by saying that he is telling the truth (Luke 4:25; John 16:7).  Sometimes he would refer to a person who "does what is true" (John 3:21).  Other times he would simply affirm that what someone said was true (John 4:18).  Other times, he would affix the word 'true' before a noun and use it as an adjective - for example:
  • "The hour is coming and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth…Those who worship him must worship him in spirit and truth" (John 4:23).
  • "If then you have not been faithful to the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?" (Luke 16:11)
  • "For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink" (John 6:55).
Often times, Jesus makes one's truthfulness the test of whether one is aligned with the Devil or with the Lord.  (Read John 8:44).  He even calls himself "the truth" (John 14:6).  He speaks of the world's inability to receive "the Spirit of Truth" (John 14:17).  He speaks of the truth as a means by which God sanctifies and cleanses the church (John 17:17): "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth."

When Jesus stood before Pilate, he told him, "Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice," to which Pilate replies "What is truth?"  That is in effect the question we will discuss as a preliminary.  And so I want to discuss the sanctity and importance of truth.  Why is it that our Lord spoke so much about truth, and what is it about truth that accords with God's will and character?


The beginning point for all of these commands is the character of God.  God Himself is true, and because of this, we have a standard of truth and falsehood.
  • “And now, O Lord GOD, you are God, and your words are true, and you have promised this good thing to your servant.”(2 Samuel 7:28 ESV)
  • “This God—his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true.” (2 Samuel 22:31 ESV)
  • "Every word of God proves true." (Prov. 30:5)
  • “I the Lord speak the truth; I declare what is right.”  (Isaiah 45:19 ESV)
Notice, also, the close link between God's truthfulness and his trustworthiness.  Because God cannot deny Himself, then He must keep all of His promises.  This is to be a great practical comfort to Christians when they find themselves in seasons of doubt and discouragement.

Getting to the deeper aspect of what it means for God to be "the truth," Herman Bavinck lists the different philosophical ways in which God is the "truth."
  1. In the metaphysical sense.  God is called the "true God" in distinction to idols.  In this sense, God is the "true, unique, simple, immutable, and eternal being.  God is the supreme being, the supreme truth, and the supreme good.  He is pure being.  He does not possess but IS the truth.
  2. In the ethical sense.  In the case of God, there is a complete correspondence between God's being and his revelation.  It is impossible for God to lie or to deny himself.
  3. In a logical sense.  God is the truth in the sense that he knows things as they really are.  His knowing is correct, unchangeable, and comprehensive.  It is not acquired by research and reflection, but is inherent in his divine being and precedes the existence of things.  God's knowledge is of one piece with his nature and therefore, substantial truth.  God's being composes reality and makes logic and knowledge possible.
Augustine's prayer sums this more philosophical chapter up very nicely: "You I invoke, O God, the truth in, by, and through whom all truths are true." (Soliloquies I.1)

  • “Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”(2 Thessalonians 2:11–12 ESV)  Note that the corollary of this verse is that those who have pleasure in righteousness will believe the truth.
  • "Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice" (John 18:37).
  • “I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth.” (1 John 2:21 ESV)
  • “By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him”  (1 John 3:19 ESV)
  • “And you shall say that they did not obey the voice of the Lord their God, and did not accept discipline; truth has perished; it is cut off from their lips.”  (Jeremiah 7:28 ESV)
And so we see that it is virtuous to believe the truth.  This means that we not only accept things that comport with reality, but that we are to seek the truth about all of life - but especially about God and ourselves - through solid teaching, through reason, and by seeking to better understand the Scriptures.  Also recall that Romans 1:18 speaks of those who know the truth and yet "suppress the truth in unrighteousness."  Refusal to believe the truth begins in the heart.

  • “Love truth and peace.”  (Zechariah 8:19 ESV)
  • "[The wicked] refused to love the truth and so be saved" (2 Thess. 2:10).  Note in this verse the willfulness involved in not loving the truth.
  • "The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth" (Ecc. 12:10).
  • “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.  (Psalms 51:6 ESV)
As with all of the other commands here, this imperative that we are to love the truth is rooted first in God's own love of the truth.  God delights in truth. We are being unlike God when we do not likewise do so.  Many Christians today want to relegate truth-seeking to the theology-geeks and the apologists, but if we are to be disciples of Jesus Christ, then we must be lovers of the truth, who take delight in true things.

  • “These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace.”  (Zechariah 8:16 ESV)
  • “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.”  (Ephesians 4:25 ESV)
I like the way that Thomas Boston puts it: "our mouth must agree with our mind."  Let's recall, once again, that God only speaks what is true, and this is to be echoed in our own behavior.  This is primarily what people think the ninth commandment is about, but as you can see, the speaking of truth is only part of what this commandment addresses.  First, the truth is to be first delighted and rejoiced in by the inward man, and then it comes forth from us.  If we do not know the truth, then we cannot delight in it, and if we do not delight in or love the truth, then of course we will not speak of it.  In fact, we may speak against the truth in such cases, and we may even deny the possibility of knowing any truths.  This is the milieu in which we live, unfortunately.  Our day and age is one in which those who speak what they believe to be true are shouted down as arrogant braggards who won't stop tooting their own horns.  Speaking the truth often comes at great cost.

  • “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”  (Ephesians 4:15 ESV)
People today often think that speaking the truth "in love" means a sweet tone of voice, a head tilted slightly while nodding to show concern, and an unwillingness to affirm that what one believes is "true" (for that would offend the conversation partner).  If such people had their way, then the Apostles and even Christ Himself would be the most conceivably unwelcome dinner guests imaginable.  If there is one conviction which the Old and New Testaments commonly testify to, it is perhaps, the virtue of believing, loving, and speaking the truth - even if it is to one's social detriment.

So if the popular notion of "speaking the truth in love" is wrong, then what does it mean to speak the truth in love?  Calvin's comments on this verse are helpful:
If each individual, instead of attending exclusively to his own concerns, shall desire mutual intercourse, there will be agreeable and general progress. Such, the Apostle assures us, must be the nature of this harmony, that men shall not be suffered to forget the claims of truth, or, disregarding them, to frame an agreement according to their own views.
Calvin is saying that our speaking of the truth is not to be for the promotion of our own ends, but for the betterment of those whom we are speaking with.  If making ourselves look better or even winning an argument just to prove that we are great debaters is our end, then we are certainly not speaking the truth in a Biblical manner.  We must still be cautious, because the person whom one is speaking with may not like what you have to say.  This does not mean that, therefore, you are not speaking the truth in love.  It may mean you are doing precisely that and they do not want to hear the truth.
"[W]e must not lose sight of the central and obvious teaching of the ninth commandment--it enjoins truthfulness in all dealings.  Thus the most important question to be asked with respect to Internet communication in relation to the ninth commandment is this: "Is it truthful."  In addition, we are also called as Christians to be "speaking the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15).   Here we must also recognize that "love" is not to be equated with "niceness," that the proper relationship of truth and love is often complex, and that discerning the proper balance calls for wisdom and dependence upon the Spirit of God." -William Evans
 All of this does not mean that there should not be caution and thoughtfulness in our speaking of the truth, and we will each have to search our own hearts and ask the Lord to help us to know whether we have crossed lines and whether our speech has been "in love" and for the other's good or not.   The most important thing is that Scripture be our guide in this matter, since everyone we meet has a different idea about what and how we should speak.