In the Castle Storeroom Long Enough to Get Hilariously Drunk

Thankful for a preacher (and father) that exemplifies the enthusiasm, joy, and wonder Capon describes here:

“There is a lesson in [the parable of the net] for preachers. So often, whether because of thickheadedness, lack of study, scant preparation, or just plain boredom, they unceremoniously heave the treasure of Scripture out of the pulpit as if they were flopping out so many dead fish. There is no fascination in their monologues, no intrigue, no sense whatsoever that the ministry they have been given is precisely that of being major-domo over a house to end all houses. The most they ever achieve is a kind of monomaniacal enthusiasm for the one or two items that happen to suit their own odd tastes: hellfire, perhaps; or their sawed-off, humanistic version of love; of their short-order recipe for siprituality; or the hopelessly moralistic lessons in good behavior that they long since decided were more palatable than the paradoxes of the Gospel. There is nothing that resonates with anything like the enthusiasm of, ‘Hey, look at this fantastic footstool I just discovered!’ or, ‘You’ve simply got to taste this incredible old Port!’ But alas, only that kind of enthusiasm is contagious and joy-producing. We should all pray for them. May God hasten the day on which they will stay in the castle storeroom long enough to get stark staring bonkers about the Word and hilariously drunk on Scripture.”

Robert Farrar Capon in Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus (Eerdmans, 2002; volume 1 originally published 1985), p. 143

Machen on Scripture

When people say that the doctrine of plenary or full inspiration of the Bible fails to do justice to the individuality of the Biblical writers, they simply show that they do not know what they are talking about. Yes, what a wonderful variety there is in the Bible. There is the rough simplicity of Mark, the unconscious, yet splendid eloquence of Paul, the conscious literary art of the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, the matchless beauty of the Old Testament narratives, the high poetry of the Prophets and the Psalms. How much we should lose, to be sure, if the Bible were written all in one style! We believers in the full inspiration of the Bible do not merely admit that. We insist upon it. The doctrine of plenary inspiration does not hold that all parts of the Bible are alike; it does not hold that they are all equally beautiful or even equally valuable; but it only holds that all parts of the Bible are equally true, and that each part has its place.

-J. Gresham Machen in The Christian Faith in the Modern World (1935)

Shall We Not Accept Adversity?

“‘Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” (Job 2:10)

“But that injustice [at the hands of evil men] happens on a horizontal plane. No one ever suffers injustice on the vertical plane. That is, no one ever suffers unjustly in terms of his or her relationship with God. As long as we bear the guilt of sin, we cannot protest that God is unjust in allowing us to suffer.

“If someone wrongfully causes me to suffer, I have every right to plead with God for vindication, even as Job did. Yet at the same time, I must not complain to God that He is at fault in allowing this suffering to befall me. In terms of my relationship to other people, I may be innocent, but in terms of my relationship to God, I am not an innocent victim. It is one thing for me to ask God for justice in my dealings with men. It is another thing for me to demand justice in my relationship with God. No more perilous demand could be uttered than for a sinner to demand justice from God. The worst thing that could possibly befall me is to receive pure justice from God.”

The Psalms Cry Out To Be Sung

Since I have been wont to beat the proverbial drum about singing Psalms in corporate worship over the years (see inclusive hymnody, Psalms for Advent, predominant psalmody, and well-rounded worship), I think it appropriate to point you in the direction of another excellent resource on Psalm singing. William Boekestein is the very capable and humble pastor of Covenant Reformed Church in Carbondale, PA, a sister church of ours in the URCNA. That church is embarking on a four-year journey through the Psalms, and to kick it off he preached an excellent sermon called “Singing the Psalms.” Hop on over to Sermon Audio and give it a listen; it’s well worth your time.

In light of Calvin’s pithy saying that the Psalms are an anatomy of all the parts of the soul and Westermeyer writing that “the Psalms may be spoken, but they cry out to be sung,” Rev. Boekestein argues that “worship without Psalms is like preaching without Scripture, because it is missing divine inspiration.” He breaks his sermon into two main parts: why sing Psalms and how to sing Psalms. His basic outline is this:

Why Sing the Psalms?
1. Psalms were undoubtedly Israel’s inspired songbook.
2. Psalm singing is central to New Testament worship starting with Jesus and continuing today.
3. Psalms stretch our Christian consciousness.
4. Psalms help us to know Jesus better by revealing Him and presenting His experiences in prophetic form (Luke 24:44).
5. God commands it, and it is the Word of Christ (Colossians 3:16).

How to Sing the Psalms
1. Sing Psalms by way of personal appropriation: they must become ours.
2. Sing Psalms with an attitude that reflects the attitude of the psalm.
3. Sing Psalms with gratitude when the Psalms don’t express our current attitude (especially laments).
4. Sing Psalms with love for the work of God in Christ, as they remind us of our Suffering Savior and our Conquering King.

His discussion of the Psalms stretching our Christian consciousness was especially helpful, and what I would like to summarize here. He contrasts this aspect of the Psalms with much of the contemporary self-focused, self-reflective, comfortable worship music today by highlighting five examples of this consciousness stretching.

Psalms Stretch Our Christian Consciousness
1. Psalms help us to fight when we would rather coast (e.g. Psalm 144). The Christian life isn’t a nice euphemistic “journey,” but a war. The Psalms help gird us for spiritual battle.
2. Psalms help us lament when we would rather rejoice (e.g. Psalm 143). Laments are the most frequently appearing Psalms. We can sing them because they remind us of and identify us with suffering Christians worldwide; they remind us to prepare for trouble and trial, because it’s coming; and they remind us to bring all our troubles to the Lord. They also remind us of Christ and His suffering. See my post on singing Psalms of lament for more.
3. Psalms help us to repent when we would rather cover up (e.g. Psalm 32, 51)
4. Psalms call timid Christians to be bold with God (e.g. Psalm 44), especially since we can speak boldly through Christ.
5. Psalms help us worship when we would rather complain (e.g. Psalm 42).

There are many more helpful points of teaching and application in the sermon, so I commend it to you. Rev. Boekestein is also an accomplished author, with a co-authored book on Advent and children’s books on the Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession, and Canons of Dort.

The Perfect Bible?

Nope, this isn’t a post about inerrancy. Sorry to dash your hopes against the rocks. But book lovers and design geeks, chins up! This is a post about book design and typography: heavy nerd alert.

Crossway recently released a new edition of the English Standard Version Bible (my favorite translation): the ESV Single Column Legacy Bible. Does the world really need another edition of the Bible, you might be asking? Great question. In Crossway’s case, they didn’t create an unneeded new edition just to pad sales. That is, this Bible doesn’t fall into the category of the ridiculousness that is the study Bible market, for example: Teen Study Bible, Boys Study Bible, Veggie Tales Bible, Girls Life Application Glittery Grape Butterfly Study Bible (not kidding). And we wonder why narcissism is a problem. I think it is safe to assume that Luther did not have the current Bible market in mind when he translated the scriptures into the common tongue.

But I digress. This Bible edition is beautiful. Stunning. Eminently readable. An aesthetic appeal to match the beauty of God’s Word. The layout was based on the Renaissance-era “canons of page construction,” or as Crossway describes it, the “Renaissance ideal of a perfect page.” These ideals are based on a 2:3 ratio of the text area to page size. Here’s an example page provided by Crossway:

Renaissance thinkers viewed these proportions as the perfect layout and impossible to improve upon. If the above example seems underwhelming, I assure you that it does not compare to reading this Bible in person. You can check out more pictures and details here.

Also contributing to the readability and beautiful design of this Bible is the text itself. The typeface is clean, crisp, readable, and not distracting, especially in the single column format. Section headings have been moved to the margins, and there are no distracting and microscopic cross references. Crossway has also employed line matching in this edition, in which each line of text matches the lines on the other side of the page exactly. This drastically decreases bleed-through and improves readability even more. The layout of the Psalms and other poetry in particular is fantastic.

The quality of this edition is also of a very high caliber, and the attention to detail is evident. The paper is thicker, more opaque, and whiter than the typical Bible paper, and the printing and binding are superb. For you typeface and design nerds, here are the specs:

     Font: Lexicon, 9 pt / 10.75 pt leading
     Paper: 36 gsm Thincoat Plus
     Printed in Italy

All these features help this edition read and feel more like a book than a Bible, which makes this the most readable Bible I’ve ever laid eyes on. It is also not much heavier or larger than a thinline Bible, so it’s fairly portable, too. A concordance and color maps are included in the back of the book. I look forward to giving it heavy use, while using my Reformation Study Bible for more in-depth study.

Some drawbacks include the hefty price tag ($170 retail for the top grain leather edition, $49.99 for tru-tone), lack of cross references, and no explanation of the edition’s design within the book itself.

No, Crossway did not pay me or ask me to write this review. I’m that excited about this edition. Thanks to my in-laws for the great birthday gift!

Heaven is Not My Home, I’m Just a-Passin’ Through

Moving away from controversial issues, let’s move to something a little more safe: eschatology. The end times. Doug Wilson’s Heaven Misplaced is all about eschatology, and is not a systematic defense of one view or a long-winded discussion about Bible prophecies. Instead, it’s a short, lyrical theology of God’s radical, large, and sometimes unbelievable promises regarding the efficacy and triumph of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s something we can (or should) all get behind. The Bible is very clear that it is not “all gonna burn, man.”

Up front, Wilson asks for a suspension of disbelief, an understood agreement between author and reader in works of fiction (especially fantasy). After all, “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9). When Tolkien was asked if he thought Middle Earth was real, he replied “one hopes.” That’s the perspective Wilson is writing from – an historical, optimistic theology of the trajectory of the gospel in the world. “One hopes.”

Though Wilson is a postmillennialist, the book isn’t a full-blown defense of postmillennialism, but more a scriptural view of heaven, earth, the gospel, and eternity. He doesn’t mention any of the three major eschatological camps until the glossary in Appendix A. Below is a lengthy excerpt from the book, where Wilson talks about heaven and earth. He is worth quoting at length because he says it better than I can.

What he writes here makes sense especially when compared to Jesus’ words about preparing a place for us with the Father in John 14. The word for “rooms” He uses refers to more temporary lodging than permanent lodging: nicer than any resort we’ve ever imagined, as Wilson says elsewhere. This excerpt also makes sense in light of Jesus’ “rapture” passages, where it is actually the wicked who are carried away to judgment, like in Noah’s day. Christ’s people will be the ones “left behind” in the glorious new heavens and new earth. It also jives with Paul’s description of Christ’s return in 1 Thessalonians 4, with believers meeting Him in the air to escort the victorious King back to earth. It also makes sense in light of the myriad glorious Old Testament prophecies about a renewed earth that seem too good to be true. The excerpt is in a discussion of Philippians 3:20-21, and follows the verses (any emphasis is his):

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

“As N.T. Wright notes, Caesar Augustus established the Roman colony of Philippi after the battle of Philippi in 42 B.C. and the battle of Actium in 31 B.C. He did this by settling his veterans there, many of whom were Roman citizens. This is the backdrop for Paul’s comment to the church that was located at this same Philippi. The Roman citizens of Philippi were there as Roman colonists, intended to extend the range and force of Roman influence throughout the Mediterranean world. They were not there in order for them to leave Philippi in order to come back to Rome for retirement.

“In this passage, St. Paul is using this striking metaphor for a reason. He says that our citizenship is in heaven. We look toward heaven because that is where Jesus went, which means that heaven is the place he is going to come from when He returns to earth. The metaphor translated, this means that Jesus was going to come from ‘Rome’ to ‘Philippi.’ He was not going to take ‘Philippi’ to ‘Rome’…

“If we take this simple metaphor of Paul’s at face value, it clears up a great deal for us. Christians now are living in the colonies of heaven. Now colonies are not established as feeder towns for the mother country – just the opposite actually. The mother country feeds the colonies.

“How you take the line of the story matters a great deal. Many Christians believe the cosmos has an upper and lower story, with earth as the lower story and heaven as the upper story. You live the first chapters of your life here. Then you die, and you move upstairs to live with the nice people – because only nice people are allowed on the second story. There might be some kind of sequel after that, but it is all kind of hazy. Maybe we all go live in the attic. But the basic movement in this thinking is from a Philippi ‘below’ to a Rome ‘above.’

“But what Paul teaches us here is quite different. We are establishing the colonies of heaven here, now. When we die, we get the privilege of visiting the heavenly motherland, which is quite different than moving there permanently. After this brief visit, the Lord will bring us all back here for the final and great transformation of the colonists (and the colonies). In short, our time in heaven is the intermediate state. It is not the case that our time here is the intermediate state. There is an old folk song that says, ‘This world is not my home, I’m just passing through.’ This captures the mistake almost perfectly. But as the saints gather in heaven – which is the real intermediate state – the growing question is, ‘When do we get to go back home?’ And so this means that heaven  is the place that we are just ‘passing through.’

-Doug Wilson in Heaven Misplaced: Christ’s Kingdom on Earth (Canon Press, 2008), pages 23-24

Mangoes and stones

I bought Mikayla a mango the other day. They were on sale at the grocery store, and I thought to myself, “Self, that would be a fun, delicious treat for Mikayla to try.” A good gift for her, so to speak.

In line with how my mind jumps from random topic to random topic, I started thinking of Matthew 7:11:

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

This passage is perhaps the most precious and profound passage of Scripture that I have appreciated most since becoming a father. In this passage, Christ isn’t speaking to the wicked Pharisees, who are easy to criticize and who are easy self esteem boosters. No, Christ is speaking to His disciples, the apostles, those paragons of truth and boldness later in the New Testament.

Two thousand years later, this passage is also spoken to us as Jesus’ disciples, and we are grouped with the disciples as “evil.” We sing with David, “I am evil, born in sin.” Though we are evil and born in sin, we still don’t give our children a stone instead of bread or a snake instead of fish. “How much more, then, will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

Remember that we’re not happy-go-lucky, health-and-wealth Christians. Thus, the “good things” here are not only the bountiful, easy-to-spot, good gifts God lavishes on His own. It’s not just the mangoes. Everything that comes from His hand is ultimately good: “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Hebrews 12:6).

The Lord knows what we need even more than a loving father knows what his children need. I know (imperfectly) when to give my kids good gifts and when they need loving discipline. If that’s the case for lowly, evil me, how much more can I trust God when He gives me what I need, and more perfectly than I know what I need? Good and bad, easy and difficult, plenty and want, edifying and sanctifying. What does this truth say about me when I question His purposes?

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7-11)