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Archive for June, 2009

I recently just finished reading D A Carson’s book, Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor.  This book is a collection of some of his father’s (Tom Carson) journals and reflections on his ministry as a church planter in French Canada.  I’m tempted to offer a book review, but I think I’d rather give some thoughts on this book.  If you go here, you can scroll down (under 2008) and download the book for free!  Free is less than I paid for it, since I had the wonderful fortune of purchasing it and having it delivered to my door the day before it was put up for free download on the TGC site.  That’s okay, actually, because I don’t think I’ll ever get used to reading books on the computer.

Okay, here I  go with some thoughts, in no particular order:

1.  I think this book would be great for anyone in ministry to read.  It gives a glimpse into the mind of someone struggling as a church planting pastor in a difficult context (missionaries to Africa, coming back to North America and looking for a new ministry context, found it too hard and left within a year!).  It’s a sobering and realistic account of what many ministries look like.

2.  It’s most challenging aspect, however, was not seeing the toil of ministry, but seeing the faithfulness of Tom Carson throughout.  He saw a need and gave his life to serve.  He stuck it out through thick and thin, with a grace that is all too uncommon.  I would read about Tom Carson and look at my own life and ministry and realize I had a long way to go.

3.  D A Carson does a good job of avoiding hagiography, not an easy task given his admiration for his father.  He admits that his father struggle with depression (though Tom Carson was never diagnosed or anything) and was better as an associate pastor rather than a senior pastor.

4.  Without giving the specifics away (go read the book!), Tom Carson did a phenominal job of not bad mouthing others in front of his kids.  Doesn’t sound like much?  Listen to the words you and others say about other people.  Can you say that you do not speak negatively about others?  Do your kids ever hear you voice your frustrations about other people, even if they are justified?

5.  The love that Tom Carson had for his wife is moving.  As I was reading through his service to her as she struggled in the final years of her life, I kept coming back to Paul’s command to the men of Ephesus: love your wife as Christ loves the church.  From what I read, Tom Carson did this about as well as anyone.

6.  As Tom Carson got older, the younger generation of pastors saw much more fruit than he and his generation did.  D A Carson notes that there was never a hint of jealousy or animosity on his father’s part.  I know for a fact that I would be jealous.  I’d look for relatively minor flaws and comfort myself that at least I got that right.

7.  An impetus to write this book came from a desire to encourage pastors in difficult contexts.  I can’t remember if I heard D A Carson say this in an interview or if it was in the preface of the book (I don’t have it in front of me), but he commented that we tend to glamorize certain ministries and go to their conferences (I’m thinking: Desiring God, Together for the Gospel, etc).  This can perpetuate an unrealistic vision of ministry.  I have a lot of thoughts on this (though none are complete), but I’ll save them for another post.  But I think there’s a lesson in this book: Tom Carson was faithful, therefore he was successful.  May we hear this message.

There are probably a number of other thoughts I could give (the insights into denominational politics was interesting, as were some of the historical notes of French Canada), but I really want to encourage folks to read this book.  If nothing else, download it for free and read it at your leisure.

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In recent weeks, I’ve been reading a lot of the Apostolic Fathers and other early church writers for a paper.  The more time I spend with them, the more I realize that they were a whole lot smarter than I originally thought and far better theologians than many give them credit for.

One of those eye-opening moments for me was reading Justin Martyr on the resurrection of the dead.  There were many who mocked the Christian belief that God would raise all people in bodily form.  One of the mocking claims was that if a person died blind or lame, they would be raised blind or lame.  Here is Justin’s counter (emphasis added):

Well, they say, if then the flesh rise, it must rise the same as it fails; so that if it die with one eye, it must be raised one-eyed; if lame, lame; if defective in any part of the body, in this part the man must rise deficient.  How truly blinded are they in the eyes of their hearts!  For they have not seen on the earth blind men seeing again, and the lame walking by His word.  All things which the Savior did, He did in the first place that what was spoken concerning Him in the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘that the blind should receive sight, and the deaf hear,’ and so on; but also to induce the belief that in the resurrection the flesh shall rise entire.  For if on earth He healed the sickness of the flesh, and made the body whole, much more will He do this in the resurrection, so that the flesh shall rise perfect and entire.  In this manner, then, shall those dreaded difficulties of theirs be healed.

While the language is somewhat difficult to sort, it’s easy to see Justin’s point: Jesus’ healings point to the day when God will raise the body in perfect form, in other words, the resurrection is the final and ultimate healing.

This stuck out to me largely because I originally had thought that this was a fairly unique insight belonging to Jurgenn Moltmann, “But in the framework of hope for the coming of God and his kingdom, Jesus’ healings become inextinguishable reminders of this future” (In the End, the Beginning: The Life of Hope p.65).  It’s fascinating to me to see the same observation made 1800 years apart, and makes me wonder if others have seen this and I just didn’t know it. It also leads me to think that there is more to Jesus’ ministry on earth, the resurrection and the Kingdom of God than I currently think.

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Disclaimer: Yes, we are aware that our Resource of the Month is more like Resource of Whatever Month We Have Time.  Our sincerest apologies to our reader(s).

Andy Naselli is a PhD student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and research assistant for D A (Don) Carson, one of the foremost evangelical NT scholars alive.  Andy has done everyone a tremendous service by collecting and organizing a bunch of Carson resources available for free at The Gospel Coalition website.  This includes dozens of sermons, articles in pdf format and even 7 full books for free download.  You could spend the next year working through everything included here.

At first my intention was to write one post recommending a few of these resources.  But, after much careful self-deliberation (actually, a random thought while watching the NBA Finals), I opted to resurrect our Resource of the Month feature. This way, we can spend more time highlighting individual sermons or sermon series, books, articles, etc.  While we’ll probably focus on the materials available at the TGC site, we may post on a book or commentary that you’d have to purchase.

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While I’m here, allow me to take a moment to reflect on why we provides links to sites like The Gospel Coalition, Desiring God, Sovereign Grace, as well as scholars such as N T Wright, Douglas Moo and Tom Schreiner, and teaching sites such as Biblical Training (see the links to the right for these and more).  Because BBG exists to help Christians and churches know the Bible better and apply it faithfully, we try to put resources in the hands (computers) of those who read this site.  We heavily favor those sites and scholars who make their resources available for free (or very cheap, but mostly free).  Most of those we minister to in church (in one of the most expensive cities in America) do not have the money to spend on commentaries, collections of essays, sermon cds/MP3s, etc.  And, naturally, they shouldn’t spend the money on them if they can access quality materials for free.

We applaud these scholars, pastors and organizations for making their sermons, articles, devotionals and even books available for anyone with internet access.  While we naturally don’t agree with everything they say or endorse everything contained within them, we are happy to say that we have learned greatly from much of their content and hope you do as well.

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Christian Carnival CCLXIX

Christian Carnival CCLXIX is up at Participatory Bible Study Blog, including our post on Pentecost.  Enjoy.

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This past Sunday was Pentecost Sunday on the church calendar.  It’s the day when we celebrate the pouring out of the Spirit in Acts 2.  Our pastor did a great job of pointing us to the background in the OT for this Sunday, reminding us that Pentecost didn’t start in Acts 2 but goes back to Exodus 19.  It is there where God falls in power at Mt Sinai, and this day is commemorated with a festival (Leviticus 23:15-22).  Since hearing the sermon a couple days ago, I’ve been thinking a lot about the OT background for the celebration of Pentecost.

The falling of the Spirit in Acts is a fulfillment of the prophecy in Joel 2:28-32; it’s clear why Peter choose that text.  But we can’t forget that Joel 2 was one of a group of eschatological texts, some of which predicted the coming of the Holy Spirit, who would be given “in those days” (or some phrasing like that).  So, when Peter says “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit” he is claiming that Joel 2 is fulfilled, but not only that passage.  The expectation of the Spirit that was talked about elsewhere is no longer an expectation but a reality.

But as I was thinking about Acts 2 and the fulfillment of prophecy, I kept asking the question: why Pentecost?  Is there something significant about this particular day that God chose to send His Spirit on the church?  Is it simply it’s proximity to the Passover?  Is it merely because it was slightly over a week after Jesus’ ascension?  It seems to me that any day could have potentially worked, so why Pentecost?

Going back to Exodus 19, God falls in power at Mt Sinai and commences to give the law of the covenant to Moses and Israel.  This is the day that comes to be celebrated as Pentecost.  In Acts 2 God falls in power again, but I can’t help but think there’s still a law connection here that is not explicit.  I haven’t finished fleshing out all my thoughts on this, so I welcome any feedback that can help us think through this biblically.

In some OT prophetic texts, there are promises of a day when God will write His law on the hearts of His people.  Jeremiah 31 :31-34 is one of these, and is important for the writer of Hebrews.  There’s another passage, in Ezekiel 36, that explicitly connects the giving of the Spirit and the internalization of the law, using similar language to the Jeremiah 31 passage.  Ezekiel 36:26-27:

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

So there was the expectation of the day when God will give His Spirit, not in a generalized sense but in an internal way, and enable His people to follow His commands.  He has given a new covenant and a new law, the “law of the Spirit who gives life” (Rom 8:2), the “law of Christ” (Gal 6:2), the “law of liberty” (James 1:25, 2:12).  I think the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 connects these strands.  Let me attempt to lay it out plainly:

  • God falls in power on Mt Sinai and goes on to give the Law for His people to keep (Exodus 19f).  This day comes to be celebrated as Pentecost.
  • The prophets tell of a day when God will give His Spirit, who will internalize the law and enable them to keep His commands.
  • The Spirit, the very presence of God, falls on Pentecost in Acts 2 in a way reminiscent of Exodus 19.

My point is that the Acts 2 Pentecost is the day when God falls in power again by power out His Spirit.  His Spirit, dwelling within the believer, empowers the believer to live rightly (see Romans 8:1-8).  Now, I realize that this gets into a whole host of issues- the role of the Law in the believer’s life, etc.  I’m not as concerned at this moment about how all that works out (nor do I necessarily have it all figure out).  My main point here is to make the connection between the first Pentecost, where God comes in power and gives His Law, and the Pentecost in Acts 2, where God gives His promised Holy Spirit, who writes the law on the hearts of God’s people.

So, Pentecost is more than just a day when God gave His Spirit and miraculous signs, such as tongues.  It is the day when God gives His Spirit to fulfill what He had promised all along.  The Spirit is the mark of the eschatological new covenant and the new covenant people, whom God gives new hearts and empowers to live for Him.

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