Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Resource of the Month’ Category

For those who don’t have the time or energy to work through a D A Carson book, you’llbe happy to know that there are a plethora of articles and essays at the TGC website.  If you’re looking for a place to start, I’d be happy to recommend his essay “Worship under the Word” (opens a pdf file) from the book, Worship by the Book, published in 2002.  As he notes at the beginning of this essay, writing about worship, especially about the theology of worship, is a trying task, largely because there are as many opinions about worship as there are churches, many of which reveal personal preference more than a theological stance.

Even using the term “worship” to speak of music and singing is misleading, since the Bible itself doesn’t restrict that term in such a manner.  Carson weeds through biblical texts and and tries to make sense of it all.  It’s helpful to remember that just because the Bible uses the word “worship,” it doesn’t mean it’s using it in a way that we would.  So, for example, when Jesus is about to give the Great Commission, it says the disciples “worshipped him” (Matthew 28:17).  What does this mean?  Did the fall to their knees or fall prostrate, as the verb proskuneo literally means?  Did they shout in praise?  Did Peter pick up the guitar and lead the disciples in a round of Lord I Lift Your Name on High?

Carson even gives his own definition of “worship” in the most Carsonesque fashion:

Worship is the proper response of all moral, sentient beings to God, ascribing all honor and worth to their Creator-God precisely because he is worthy, delightfully so.  This side of the Fall, human worship of God properly responds to the redemptive provisions that God has graciously made.  While all true worship is God-centered, Christian worship is no less Christ-centered.  Empowered by the Spirit and in line with the stipulations of the new covenant, it manifests itself in all our living, finding its impulse in the gospel, which restores our relationship with our Redeemer-God and therefore also with our fellow image-bearers, our co-worshipers.  Such worship therefore manifests itself both in adoration and in action, both in the individual believer and in corporate worship, which is worship offered in the context of the body of believers, who strive to align all the forms of their devout ascription of all worth to God with the panoply of new covenant mandates and examples that bring to fulfillment the glories of antecedent revelation and anticipate the consummation.

Have you ever seen a definition so ready-made for a power point slide?

Don’t let the long definition (which Carson even calls “too long and too complex”) throw you off.  He does a great job of breaking it down and making it manageable.  Along the way you’ll learn a ton about what the Bible says regarding worship, and even pick up some insightful comments on contemporary practice.  In a nutshell, it’s the kind of essay every pastor and worship leader should read, as well as anyone interested in the theology and practice of worship.

Read Full Post »

This month we’re highlighting some D A Carson resources that we think will be helpful to anyone interested in the intersection of biblical studies and the Christian life.  In this post I want to recommend Carson’s sermons; you can find many of them here.  Listening to a Carson sermon will probably be a different experience for most people.  He’s definitely a scholar, and it shows in his preaching.  There is a depth not present in most sermons preached in churches on Sunday mornings.

Yet, his sermons aren’t lectures, nor are they step-by-step guides on how to live a better life.  He digs into a text, but pulls back to show how this text ought to influence our worldview and practical living.  Chances are it will take some listeners a couple Carson sermons to get used to his style.  You might, at first, think it’s like listening to a commentary.  But after some careful listening, you’ll realize that he’s penetrating into the heart of what’s going on in the Bible and today.

If you’re looking for somewhere to start, I recommend the series he preached last December at Mars Hill Church in Seattle (also know as Mark Driscoll’s church) at an event called A Day with Dr. Don– it’s easier to access the audio or video at this link than the TGC site.  (Irony alert: the event was advertised “A Day with Dr. Don” with the subtitle “It’s All About Jesus.”  I found that funny.)

For instance, in his sermon on John 11 (the raising of Lazarus), you get all sorts of insights: mourning practices in ancient Judaism (historical background), thoughts on the relationship of God’s love and delay (theology), how this chapter fits into the surrounding context (literary context), and so on.  And along the way you just might have your perception of God and His Son broadened.

A couple random things I appreciate about Carson’s sermons:

1)  He’s funny, though sometimes unintentionally.  I always get a kick out of his insistence on pronouncing foreign words with the proper foreign accent.

2)  Since he’s ministered in contexts all around the world, he has valuable insights into how culture and the church fit together.

3)  I thoroughly enjoy his thinly veiled shots at N T Wright.  I say “thinly veiled” because he doesn’t name him, but if you’ve read Wright and Carson’s critiques of him, you’ll definitely pick them up.  It’s not that I dislike Wright, in fact, I’m a fan.  It’s just that I like finding the potshots, almost like a Where’s Waldo? game or something.  For the record: he does give credit to Wright when it’s due, such as Wright’s work on the resurrection.

4)  Most importantly: Carson does an admirable job making Jesus the center of all things.  Sounds like an evangelical cliche?  I can assure you that when he connects different themes of the Bible to Jesus, it isn’t in some cheesy worship tune way.  Christ, and what He has accomplished, stands in the middle of all that God has done and is doing in this world.

So, go check out some of his stuff.  Like I said, I recommend the talks at Mars Hill.  I also recommend his series, Missions as the Triumph of the Lamb, from the missions week at Reformed Theological Seminary in 2004.  The format at the TGC site is a little confusing (and I think the dates are wrong), so I’ll give you them here in the order preached: Revelation 4, Revelation 5, Revelation 21:1-8, Revelation 21:9-22:6, Revelation 12, Revelation 13, Revelation 14.  That’s right- a missions conference preached entirely from Revelation.  No wonder I like this guy so much.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

———-

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.

Read Full Post »

I can hardly call this post an RoTM, since, as Danny has noted, I have been decidely delinquent in posting lately.  I have several excuses for this, but rather than take ownership and responsibility for the management of my life, I will follow current social trends and blame somebody else, viz., Danny.  It may not appear obvious, but somehow, I know it’s his fault :)

I wanted to tie off a thought of two on the local church:  When is a church properly called “a church?”  Danny and I have admitted up front that “what church is supposed to look like” is a difficult question to answer, because there are no orders of service in Scripture, nor are there detailed descriptions.  Instead, we have to deduce from Scripture how New Testament churches functioned and what types of things they did.

In my encounters with American Christians, most seem to agree with various aspects of what the local church should look like.  Words like “community,” “Bible teaching,” “service,” “prayer,” and “worship,” dot the conversation, as they should.  We’ve heard (ad nauseum, in my opinion) that the church isn’t a building, that the institution isn’t a necessary component to being Christian (side note:  I wonder if that has anything to do with the strong anti-institutional bias in America?).  Yea and amen.  Indeed, a group of believers who come together regularly to study the Word, pray, worship, serve and love each other can be called a local church, irrespective of their registration with the state as such, what day and time they meet, how often, how long, the existence of paid staff, a building, offices, bylaws, polity, or even a proper name.  Or can it?

I feel that the Sacraments are often left out of this discussion, and I number myself among those guilty of neglecting them when describing the fundamentals of what a local church should be.  The Lord’s Supper and baptism are clearly a part of the early church (e.g., 1 Cor. 1:14-16; 11:17ff), and their practice today ought to be a part of ours.

The reasons are manifold, but most importantly, if we take the early church as the prototype for all churches to come, and the New Testament as the authority on defining what a church is and does, our participation in these Sacraments shows an explicit attempt to continue in those traditions and practices; affirmation and assent to what Christ founded and the apostles continued.

So then, if a group of believers gathers regularly for worship, prayer, community, and Bible teaching, but neglects any attempt practice the Sacraments (n.b., I make no mention here of what Baptism an the Lord’s Supper mean or look like; these are disputed matters for another post), I do not believe that the New Testament would understand said group as a local church.  Is it good?  Can it be blessed?  Is God pleased with it?  Yes, yes and yes.  Is it a church?  I don’t believe it is.

I am aware that many local gatherings may not have much opportunity for baptism, especially if all members have already been baptized.  However, it should be an available practice, and hopefully the group is seeking to reach unbelievers (another clear mark of a church), and will have the opportunity at some point to baptize.

Is this post a major in the minors?  Am I guilty of sweating some nuance of proper nomenclature?  I do not believe I am.   If we love, serve and pray in our church because the pattern is clear in the New Testament, then we should also practice the Sacraments, since they are equally clear.  Not only so, but they are far from burdensome, but a powerful expression of devotion and love to the God we serve.  I never fail to be blessed when I’ve participated (or witnessed) a Sacrament at my local church.  Let us endeavor to keep them in the ongoing conversation of “what church looks like,” lest we rob the local church of these great traditions.

Read Full Post »

This post is part of the continuing series known as Resource of the Month, where we highlight one particular resource for Christians and churches and show how it can help us in our walks with the Lord and ministry.  This month Brian and I have chosen to highlight the church, specifically the local church, as a resource.  This post focuses on one particular way the church (the gathering of Christians) can help each other.

In our circles, where not only the Sunday meeting is attended but smaller groups (which we call “Faithgroups”) are also emphasized, you won’t have to wait long before you hear someone quote Hebrews 10:24-25: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another- and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (TNIV).

We apply this in any number of ways, moving beyond the “official” church gatherings (the aforementioned Sunday meeting and Faithgroups), and include meeting together in homes for dinner, discipling others, accountability, etc (many of which happen in our Faithgroups).  All of these fall under the application of the verse above.

But why was the author of Hebrews so intent on his readers meeting together regularly and purposefully? 

I think it’s easy to miss the connection with the verses around Hebrews 10:24-25, specifically what comes after it.  When you read verses 26-31, it seems like the author switches gears and begins a new topic, the problem of believers falling away.  But, the writer didn’t simply move on, these verses are connected.  If you are reading a more dynamic equivalent translation (TNIV, NLT), you might miss this connection (fans of the NASB & ESV cheer loudly). 

In fact, the writer gives us a clue that he is about to tell us why it’s important to continue meeting together when he uses the little word “for” (gar in Greek).  I’ll give verse 26 from the NASB translation: “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins…”  You can read the rest of the section for yourself to get an idea just how bad this “falling away” or “deliberate sinning” can be.  (Note: I’m well aware of the theological debates around these verses and the issue of someone “losing their salvation”, but I’m not going to address this here, since the point of this post stays the same.)

The author of Hebrews lets us know that regularly meeting together to encourage each other to live faithfully is vital in keeping us from falling away from our faith.  He knows, and we should too, that there is a day (or “Day” if you prefer) when God will judge us all, and you do not want to be on the side of those who “trample the Son of God underfoot” or “treat as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them” or “insult the Spirit of grace.”  Such people need to hear the warning in verse 31: “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

But God has not left us alone to fight against sin and temptation.  He has given us each other.  He tells us to assemble together, not to meet a requirement or get a star on our Sunday School attendance chart.  He tells us to meet together so we can build each other up and keep each other from sinning.  We are given the responsibility to restore each other when we do sin (Gal 6:1, I deal with that verse here).

We were not saved so that we could become an “army of one.”  We were saved into a community, bound with other believers by the empowering presence of God, His Holy Spirit.  While this is not the only reason, we do need to continue meeting together so that we do not fall away, so that we can live out the words in Hebrews 10:23: “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”

Read Full Post »

It seems that I and my e-friend Steve both dislike the phrase “doing chuch,” so I will coin an alternative for this post: “churching.”  For my money, churching is an unbelievably difficult topic to tackle, though I wonder how much of the difficulty is self-inflicted.  Must it be so complicated, so nuanced, so controversial?  I would answer a non-committal “yes” and “no.”  It seems rather easy to paint broad strokes about what church should look like.  People are coming together to care for one another, share life, worship, serve, be edified, etc.  Simple enough.  The complexity, or difficulty comes in when one actually has to do something, rather than talk about it.  Sooner or later, the rubber must meet the road, and we need to get practical.

This tension has been one of my frustrations with discussions about churching.  There is no shortage of writing out there criticizing the way church is done today.  Much of this criticism is excellent, and I find myself saying “Amen,” multiple times.  Writers like David Wells and Marva Dawn make insightful observations about the church.  I’ve found comparatively few such books or articles, however, that get practical.

For example, at Steve’s recommendation, I recently read an article by David Fitch that is quite good.  Fitch makes a statement towards the end of his article that I believe is typical of the churching dialogue:

If then we would see people formed into the Missio Dei we must order our worship so as to be encountered by the living God.

Yea, and amen…but how?   Fitch offers some vague ideas towards the end of his post, but they don’t get much more specific than “simplifiy the service.”  So what does this ordering of worship actually look like?  Do I sing hymns?  With guitar?  Organ?  Contemporary?  Lyrics on the screen?  Hymnals?  How many songs?  Where?  What day?  How long?

I don’t wish to criticize Fitch here (indeed, we shall vindicate him!), but rather make the point that much of what I read about churching is ivory tower-esque; that is to say, true but ethereal.  (Much of my own writing is no exception, either).  The answers given to the practical questions, such as mine above are often “it depends…” or “ask God,” (ahem), or “pray about it,” or “with wisdom.”

I believe there is something important that we can learn about these nebulous recommendations.  Perhaps we shouldn’t get too specific.  Given the variety of circumstances, cultures and persons in and to which a church will minister, offering specifics could be either impossible, or at least, unwise.

I think the key to churching is not found in the specifics but the efficacy.  Are lives changed?  Are people growing in love and knowledge of God?  Is the community served?  Are people coming to saving faith in Christ?  In short, is the Kingdom advancing?  All of these questions transcend how slick the service is, how big the building, how entertaining the pastor, how numerous the programs, or how large the numbers.

I believe that it is possible to have a Kingdom-advancing, God-centered church all over the practical spectrum: from 10 believers meeting weekly by a tree in a field to something like Willow Creek (n.b., not an endorsement of Willow Creek).  To adapt part of Obama’s inaugural speech, it doesn’t matter if it’s big church or small church, but church that works.  Examples of church working are found in the pages of Scripture (as are examples of church not working!)

Back to Fitch’s (justifiably) vague advice, how do we order worship so that people encounter God?  Well, we pray about it.  We think about it.  We examine the assumptions about our methods as best we can, and make our choices intentional and theologically informed. 

Following the cultural norm of American churches isn’t ipso facto wrong, or automatically doomed to inefficacy.  What’s wrong is blind, thoughtless conformance to it.  What’s wrong is making the claim that certain forms of churching are normative for all Christendom.  What’s wrong is measuring the success of churching with a yard stick borrowed from corporate America, tempting though it is (after all, it’s easy to know if your weekly attendance has increased year-over-year; compare that with measuring the wax or wane of a congregation’s love and knowledge of God!)

My personal opinion is that a great deal of life could be breathed into the local church if people simply asked “why?” more often, and didn’t settle for half-baked answers.  Why do a drama?  Why choose this type of music?  Why get a building?  Serious interaction with these questions can go a long way.

In the end, I’m quite confident that God is supremely capable of working with and through any number of methods or forms of churching.  Go figure, but in terms of advancing the Kingdom, it’s always God that does the heavy lifting.  The trick to churching is to make sure it’s as useful as it can be for His purposes.  The church must be properly aligned and submitted to Him, no matter what it actually looks like.  Some churches might be a saw, others a hammer.  So long as they are effective at their job, I believe God will use them.  (Ah, the sweet, ethereal smell of vagary, I shall never tire of your ivory-tower baked goodness!)

Coming in Part II, I want to consider “cultural infections” in the church.  Whence do they infect?  How do we diagnose and treat them?  Better yet, how do we predict and prevent them?

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »