Saturday, August 31, 2019

Book: Into His Presence

And…I’m back in the book review business. I have let the blog basically go to see for the past year or so, and as a result have actually slipped up on some reviews that I owed—which I hope to fulfill, even if I’m now no longer in those review programs—and left several review programs due to lack of time and interest. Fortunately, my collapse coincided with a hiatus on the part of Kregel Academic and Ministry’s blog review program, so I didn’t lose my opportunity to write for them. I have yet to encounter a bad Kregel Academic work, so I am quite happy about this.

Today, we’ll take a look at my review copy of Into His Presence: A Theology of Intimacy with God by Tim Anderson. (The link will take you to Kregel’s page where you can read an excerpt, order the book, or see other reviews on Goodreads.) Anderson is a professor at Corban University, where he teaches theology and biblical studies. He also, as many theology professors do in the evangelical traditions, serves in various ministry programs including international ministry training programs.
Into His Presence is presented as a “Theology of Intimacy with God.” That is a tall order to meet, and Anderson begins rightly by working to define what “intimacy with God” actually is. His basic working definition is “the movement of God and Christians toward a good place of true knowledge and close contact.”  This works as a starting point, and then the rest of the work builds out this description.

Each chapter ends with a section labeled “Now What?” that provides questions to contemplate what the reader has seen and consider where the next step in exploring intimacy with God lies. These are open-ended questions, there are no right/wrong answers. (Well, I’m sure you could go far, far wrong on some of the questions. But it’s not a multiple-choice type of question.)

I found that Anderson hit a great balance between the academic examination of theology and the practical, spiritual engagement of personal intimacy with God. I found his examination of personification helpful, looking at how God uses comparisons with things we understand. That helped clarify some questions about areas of Scripture.

The final chapter, looking at our “songs of intimacy,” provides some good questions for worship planning in churches. It is focused on the specific type of song referring to intimacy, and it is not critical of modern music but rather challenges us to think through the adequacies of the music we choose to sing, no matter the age.

I can gladly recommend Tim Anderson’s Into His Presence for those desiring to understand intimacy with God better.
Book provided by Kregel Academic.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Gatekeepers: 3 John

In Summary:
3 John is another short book in Scripture. In fact, at a little over 200 words in the original Greek, it’s the shortest book in the whole Bible. (You can compare Greek-to-Greek by using the Septuagint.)

One of the great things about Scripture, though, is every word is valuable, and every word is given by God with a purpose. So, even the short 3 John has value. We see a couple of points in summary:

First, John writes to a friend, opening with his concern for Gaius’ own health and prosperity. There is no reason to get carried away with “prosperity” in 3 John 3, as it can simply mean the overall meeting of needs and provision for life. And, it’s linked to the prosperity of his soul—the focus is on the relationship with Jesus not on material.

Second, John keeps his eyes on the importance of walking in the truth. Realize that this is the same pen that wrote “God is love” in 1 John 4:8, so John is not short on acknowledging the love of God.

But he sees that love as inseparable from the truth of who God is.

In Focus:
John’s primary purpose in writing, though, is to address the issue of the gatekeepers of the church. In this case, we’re not talking about a gate in a fence, but rather the overall idea of those who determined who was permitted to come into the church, who was permitted to speak or teach, and to whom the church extended hospitality.

The church in question had a problem here, because Diotrephes had become the power broker in the situation. He utilized his role in the church for his own power and his own privilege, rather than for the betterment of the body. Why? John said he “loves to be first.”

John further highlights that he will, when he gets there, deal with Diotrephes.

In Practice:
Why do you think John wrote this to Gaius? It is most likely that John hoped Gaius could persuade Diotrephes to repent. Perhaps they were friends, family members, they had some relationship that had endured despite the questionable behaviors of Diotrephes.

And John wanted Gaius to work through that relationship to bring Diotrephes to repentance and restoration, for the sake of his own soul and for the good of the whole church.

You see where this is going, right? In the current era of the church, we have similar problems. There are people who have warped the church of the Living God for their own power and pleasure, to the detriment of the church and to the harm of many souls. Meanwhile, most of these have friends and associates who have remained faithful, true to the Gospel, living in the truth, and the question becomes:

Will they call their friend to repentance? In a Christendom filled with folks claiming to be Daniel or Peter or Paul or David, we need men and women to step up and be Gaius. We need those who will step forward, look their friend in the eye, and call them to repentance.

And not secretly after the first attempt: John’s letter is no closed-door meeting. The opportunity for Diotrephes to have private repentance and restoration had passed, for the damage was too wide, too public, and the only restoration could be found if the repentance matched the sin.

So what will we do? What did John find when he came to Gaius and the church? Did he find himself having to rebuke not only Diotrephes but also Gaius for falling from the truth?

What will Jesus find when He calls us to account?

In Nerdiness: 

Authorship discussions likely belong here, but there is not much to say that has not already been said regarding 1 John or 2 John. If those two are written by the Apostle John, then this one is. If not, it is likely that this one was not, either. There is very little reason to suggest a different author among the Johannine Epistles, and the determination of the Apostle John’s authorship is more a matter of historical study than it is examination of the inspired text. It does not follow that a New Testament text must be written by an Apostle to be counted as inspired by God (as referenced in 2 Timothy 3:16). We need to be cautious not to confuse the value of the text with the worthiness of its originator.

Which, of course, needs its own caveats even today for texts that are not “inspired” in the same manner as Scripture. For example, David is “inspired” in a manner that I would label as “without error” or “inerrant” when he wrote the Psalms of praise found in the text. A modern worship song may be “inspired” in a positive way, but can be wrong—some songs are really good, inspired, with one bad line in them! There is a difference.

However, on point, there is a challenge in addressing the character of the author of a text. On the one hand, David committed adultery and murder and wrote Psalms of praise; Saul persecuted the Church in its infancy and wrote much of the New Testament; James and Jude, brothers of Jesus, only show up in the Gospels as not believing in Him and write two important letters; Peter, Mark, Matthew all have issues in their background—and we do not discard their writings. On the the other hand, what do we do with others?

First, I would suggest that we set aside those writings received by the church throughout her history as inspired by God and in the canon of Scripture. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, Mark’s account of the Gospel, Ezra’s retelling of the building of the Second Temple, all of these fall under slightly different rules—rules driven by a belief in the inspiration of the text. The real question comes in things written more recently.

Sometimes only a hundred years more recently, like a 2nd century Church Father, or 1900 years more recently, like a nineteenth century minister. What do we do with those?

A couple of thoughts:

1. Compare someone’s “progressive” nature or “cultural” situation to where he or she is coming from, not where you are looking back from. A writer of the 8th century speaking of women as “surprising in their ability to have an intellect equal to men” was ahead of his time, not repressive and misogynistic. Saying the same thing now would be rude—but we live in a society that has had time to process such things.

That is not to say that some blind spots have to be ignored. Many of prior centuries views on race are so distant from what appears to be clear Biblical teaching as to confound us as to how the readers got there. But, honesty should compel us to admit we might have gotten it just as wrongly.

Do we toss all of the writings of ministers, poets, scholars of those eras? I would say we do not, but we must remember to check their lenses if we use them today.

2. The other side is one of character: while blind spots, even egregious ones, can be understood culturally, we cannot dismiss blatant, constant character failings. The authority of one who could never keep a marriage vow or was abusive to those in his care must be questioned, and typically rejected. It is unlikely that there is any one person, past the Apostles, whose contribution is so unique and so foundational that his (or her) work must be held onto regardless of their own character. Salvation by grace is not preached only in Luther or Calvin or Zwingli, for example, if one finds that any of the Magisterial Reformers were too wicked to trust their theology.

And the same can be said for songwriters, etc., for no one who writes is perfect. I am not stating that all should be sinless or discarded, but if someone is actively engaged (or, historically, was actively engaged) in a sinful lifestyle then their work should be heavily reconsidered. We sing “Amazing Grace” because John Newton wrote it after seeing his sin in slave-selling. Had he written it while in the midst of profiteering on human suffering, we should perhaps find a different song.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Sermon Recap for August 25

Here is what you’ll find: there is an audio player with the sermon audios built-in to it, just click to find the one you want. You’ll also find the embedded Youtube videos of each sermon.

If you’d like, you can subscribe to the audio feed here: for iTunes users. Other audio feeds go here:

The video is linked on my personal Youtube Page here:

Sermons are stockpiled here:

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

For the Sake of the Truth: 2 John

In Summary:

Well, we’ve hit a book that is just one chapter, so the summary will have to introduce the book and knock out the whole chapter in one fell swoop. Which should be easy, though it is not uncommon to write about 2 John and use more words than the whole of 2 John contains. In fact, take a minute and go read 2 John. I’ll be here when you get back in 5 minutes.

This letter, like four of John’s writings, is technically anonymous. It is written from “The Elder” and addressed to “The Chosen Lady.” How do we get “John the Apostle” (also, traditionally called “John the Evangelist,” as the author of the Gospel, or Evangel) from “The Elder”? Well, that’s a good question, dear reader, and it takes some examination. At this point, some 1900 years after the writing of 2 John, we can start as taking this as received tradition. When you look at it from that perspective, it’s like a replay of a football call: you accept what has been said, unless you find clear and convincing evidence to overturn the call. So you can start there, but you have to acknowledge two things: 1) it’s not explicit in the inerrant text, so you could be wrong; 2) even the early church was not certain that it was the same John.

However, the received tradition is based on a couple of usable clues. First, the authority evident in the letter itself suggests someone who is well-regarded by the church and needs no introduction. Unlike our “this man needs no introduction,” which we typically follow up with a “here’s the introduction,” apparently The Elder needed no introduction…and got none. Second, there are language similarities to 1 John and John, as well as theological themes in common. There is not a strongly compelling reason to think the tradition is wrong, but we should be careful hanging too much on authorship here.

The next question becomes: who is “The Chosen Lady?” You get two choices here as well. It’s either symbolic or literal. You’re either seeing a letter sent to a group symbolized by the term, or to a definite person who is the audience. The Church is often referred to as the “Bride of Christ,” which would legitimately result in this type of address. Further, The Elder addresses not only The Chosen Lady but also her “children,” and this is often taken as the church and those they have reached with the Gospel. Further, the closing verse of “the children of your chosen sister greet you” (2 John 13) could be an indicator that The Elder speaks of another congregation. We know that the early church used family terms to refer to one another and their fellow congregations.

However, it is also possible that The Elder (John) has developed a relationship with a believing family and is writing for the purpose of encouraging a specific lady and her children. Perhaps she has been a supporter of the ministry or is a believer who has recently had to relocate and needs both news of her children left behind (v. 4) and guidance for traveling teachers she will encounter at times (v. 9).

Either way, the message then comes to us, as written initially to a person or a congregation of the ancient world, and now we strive to apply it to our modern day.

In Focus:

With that in mind, while there are many quick truths here, put your focus on 2 John 10-11 about greeting those who do not abide in the teaching of Christ. The instruction is not to even bring those who teach falsehood into the home. This rejection of hospitality is notable: that was not the way of the world at the time. You provided hospitality to those in need or even those traveling about, even if you did not know the person. The exception were those who had deeply wronged your family.

And The Elder is instructing the Chosen Lady to treat false teachers in exactly that manner: they are wronging the family. Do not so much as let them in for lunch.

In Practice:

What does that look like for us?

First, what it does not look like: if the recruiting team for another religion knocks on your door and you bring them for a glass of water and to tell them about Jesus, then you are not violating this principle. That’s a good thing to do.

What should we not do? We should not do things like: send that snake-oil peddling Gospel-denying TV preacher $50 just “in case” or anything of the sort. We should not support those ministers who harm the family by being wolves in sheep’s clothing and abusing their authority or position.

We have to be discerning. Which requires us, as the people of God, to know the Word of God well enough to discern right from wrong and, as Spurgeon (I think) said, discern right from “almost” right. Remember that Truth is like asking if the power is on or off before you rewire the ceiling fan: there’s no “almost” or “maybe.” That wire is either hot or it isn’t. And if it is, you’re going to get zapped.

For the sake of the truth, we must know the Truth and hold to it.

In Nerdiness: 
Well, some of the nerdcontent is up there in the In Summary section, but a few more notes: if 3 John is written by the same person as 2 John, then we could consider the intro to 3 John in deciphering 2 John. 3 John is from “The Elder” to “The Beloved Gaius.” It would be logical that the formula in 2 John matches and “The Chosen Lady” is a name formula.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Sermon Recap for August 18, 2019

Here is what you'll find: there is an audio player with the sermon audios built-in to it, just click to find the one you want. You'll also find the embedded Youtube videos of each sermon.

If you'd like, you can subscribe to the audio feed here: for iTunes users. Other audio feeds go here:

The video is linked on my personal Youtube Page here:

Sermons are stockpiled here:



Tuesday, August 6, 2019

A Conquered World: 1 John 5

In Summary:

It’s taken me a long time to finish 1 John. Which is, honestly, somewhat odd because I’ve preached through 1 John several times and greatly enjoyed it. I do not remember who first suggested it, but I remember being advised that the best place to point a new believer in the Bible was to 1 John. Through these five short chapters, one can gather a background in the basics of Christian belief, the person of Jesus, and the way of walking with Him.

That being said, let us take a look at this last chapter.  John presents his closing arguments to the church. He is writing, per 1 John 5:13, to help them have confidence in the eternal life that comes through Christ. But that eternal life is not a “later-on” thing which holds no import in the current day. Instead, the beliefs underpin a changed life now. It starts with loving God, which is demonstrated by keeping his commands (1 John 5:3) but then goes on to “conquer the world,” (1 John 5:4). Conquest would be something clearly understood in the original time: the Romans were typically ruling over places that they had conquered at some point in the past, and that past was not too far away. John himself would have been well-aware of the life of Israel as a land conquered by Rome, and many in the churches would have been descended from those Rome had overrun.

In Focus:

In focus, though, look at how this conquest takes place: 1 John 5:5 speaks of Jesus conquering. He is the One who has conquered not just by water but by water and blood, with the Spirit testifying to the truth of this. This should be understood as a reference to both the baptism and crucifixion of Jesus, showing this is how He demonstrated who He is and why He came.

This is not the type of “conquest” that many people were looking for. It is a conquest that starts with individuals converting from their self-driven kingdoms and surrendering to God. The change, the new kingdom starts within and works outward, loving God and loving one another.

In Practice:

What, then, do we do?

First, we need to get our focus right. Our conquest of the world starts with allowing God, through His Word and His Holy Spirit, to conquer us. That’s entirely different than forming political action groups or gathering to boycott, protest, or any other form of earthly structures. If we are not mastered by the Word of God, then we are in no shape to be part of God’s plan in the world around us. To get there, we must learn His Word that we may follow Him, that we may obey Him.

Second, let us keep in mind that we are conquering. That should put in our hearts a readiness for opposition. That opposition should be coming from the world, though, and not structured by our own hearts or our fellow conquerors.

Which brings us to point three: guess what you learn in the study of history? Most conquests fall apart not from lack of strength but because, internally, strife and division destroyed the unity and strength of the conquerors. And if you look at the church today, why do we not conquer? Disunity and strife. Strife from abusive leaders that should be removed, corrected, and guided to repentance. Division from church members who think the church is their property and not the property of the Living God. Strife from the tyranny of traditions and division from the chaos of trying to always embrace the new.

The solution is to be unified in the power of God, grounded in the Word of God.

In Nerdiness: 

A. There’s a textual criticism issue with 1 John 5:7, which most newer translations footnote with “late mss (for ‘manuscripts’) add testify in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. 8. And there are three who bear witness on earth:” followed by v. 8 as we have it in the text. Because those manuscripts are the foundation of earlier Bible translations, like the King James or the Geneva Bible, the first appearance here is that newer translations are removing part of Scripture. However, the other side of the debate suggests that, historically, at some point a scribe copying 1 John added the phrase, and the newer translations are restoring the original text. Which is accurate? I personally hold that the text is without error in its original form, so here I would say whatever and however the Holy Spirit inspired John to write, that was inerrant. If the Holy Spirit did not inspire the longer rendering, then it should be out.

And we can figure this out with some degree of certainty, but it is not a great place to camp out dogmatically. Textual criticism (the term for this branch of study) is a science, and as such remains open to new evidence, new methods. We can be certain, though, that no doctrine is at risk here. The doctrine of the Trinity is pretty explicitly spelled out in the later reading, but it’s not like it’s absent in the rest of Scripture. Plus, there’s a potential lean in the wrong direction of restricting the Trinity to Heaven only with that line rather than seeing the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit at work on earth. Still and all—don’t get overwrought by some of the textual questions. There are good scholars who take the Word of God seriously who spend their lifetimes on this stuff; not everyone with a textual question is a heretic out to destroy the faith. Many of the faithful women and men in Biblical Studies as an academic field are trying to make sure we understand fully rather than only through tradition.

B. John’s conclusion is quite different from Paul’s letters: there are no personal greetings here, no notes of travel plans. Just a final warning: beware of idols. It’s a good one for us, as well: guard yourselves from idols. An idol cannot do anything to you unless you embrace it.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Sermon Recap for August 4 2019

Here is what you'll find: there is an audio player with the sermon audios built-in to it, just click to find the one you want. You'll also find the embedded Youtube videos of each sermon.

If you'd like, you can subscribe to the audio feed here: for iTunes users. Other audio feeds go here:

The video is linked on my personal Youtube Page here:

Sermons are stockpiled here:


(There’s only video for the evening sermon because somebody named Doug left the audio recorder data card on his desk instead of taking it back to church.)

Historical Thinking for June 18 2024

 So, one of the things that has me struggling with blogging for the last, oh, 3 or 4 years is that I am supposed to be writing a dissertatio...