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
The last four paragraphs have been about theology – an enterprise that, despite the oftentimes homicidal urgency Christians attach to is, has yet to save anybody. What saves us is Jesus, and the way we lay hold of that salvation is by faith. And faith is something that, throughout this book, I shall resolutely refuse to let mean anything other than trusting Jesus. It is simply saying yes to him rather than no. It is, at its root, a mere ‘uh-huh’ to him personally. It does not necessarily involve any particular theological structure or formulation; it does not entail any particular degree of emotional fervor; and above all, it does not depend on any specific repertoire of good works – physical, mental, or moral. It’s just ‘Yes, Jesus,’ till we die – just letting the power of his resurrection do, in our deaths, what it has already done in his.
My purpose in saying this so strongly, however, is not simply to alert you to some little band of intellectuals called theologians who may try to talk you into thinking otherwise. Such types exist, of course, but they are usually such bores that all they do is talk you out of wanting to even breathe. No, the reason for my vehemence is that all of us are theologians. Every one of us would rather choose the right-handed logicalities of theology over the left-handed mystery of faith. Any day of the week – and twice on Sundays, often enough – we will labor with might and main to take the only thing that can save anyone and reduce it to a set of theological club rules designed to exclude almost everyone.
Christian theology, however, never is and never can be anything more than the thoughts that Christians have (alone or with others) after they have said yes to Jesus. Sure, it can be a thrilling subject. Of course, it is something you can do well or badly – or even get right or wrong. And naturally, it is one of the great fun things to do on weekends when your kidney stones aren’t acting up. Actually, it is almost exactly like another important human subject that meets all the same criteria: wind-surfing. Everybody admires it, and plenty of people try it. But the number of people who can do it well is even smaller than the number who can do it without making fools of themselves.
Trust Jesus, then. After that, theologize all you want. Just don’t lose your sense of humor if your theological surfboard deposits you unceremoniously in the drink.
Robert Farrar Capon in Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus (Eerdmans, 2002), pp. 24-25
All this is one of God’s merciful arrangements. He gives your children a mind that will receive impressions like moist clay. He gives them a disposition at the starting-point of life to believe what you tell them, and to take for granted what you advise them, and to trust your word rather than a stranger’s. He gives you, in short, a golden opportunity of doing them good. See that the opportunity be not neglected, and thrown away. Once let slip, it is gone forever.
Beware of that miserable delusion into which some have fallen, that parents can do nothing for their children, that you must leave them alone, wait for grace, and sit still. These persons have wishes for their children in Balaam’s fashion; they would like them to die the death of the righteous man, but they do nothing to make them live his life. They desire much, and have nothing. And the devil rejoices to see such reasoning, just as he always does over anything which seems to excuse indolence, or to encourage neglect of means.
I know that you cannot convert your child. I know well that they know who are born again are born, not of the will of man, but of God. But I also know that God says expressly, ‘Train up a child in the way he should go,’ and that he never laid a command on a man which He would not give man grace to perform. And I know, too, that our duty is not to stand still and dispute, but to go forward and obey. It is just in the going forward that God will meet us. The path of obedience is the way in which He gives the blessing. We have only to do as the servants were commanded at the marriage feast in Cana, to fill the water-pots with water, and we may safely leave it to the Lord to turn that water into wine.
-J.C. Ryle in The Duties of Parents (1888)
Books read from April through June. Next reading list viewable by clicking here. Running yearly count: 14.
All the King’s Men – Robert Penn Warren (1946); Library // Though I’ve never been one for political novels, I could barely put this classic down. The politics were only a setting for the masterful character studies on the meteoric rise of a back-country lawyer turned state senator, his right-hand man (the protagonist and narrator), and others they leave in their wake.
The Bruised Reed – Richard Sibbes (1630); Ebook // Encouraging, uplifting, sobering, and Puritanically repetitive and organized. A series of sermons on Isaiah 42:3 that is well worth the effort to read. Spurgeon described Sibbes as one who “scatters pearls and diamonds with both hands.”
The Christian Faith in the Modern World – J. Gresham Machen (1935); Ebook // Since I’m back in the OPC, I figured it was high time to read more Machen. This is a series of radio broadcasts Machen did in the 1930s, a la Lewis’ Mere Christianity. Similar in nature to Lewis’ broadcasts, though Machen focuses more on giving a defense of the basics of the faith than Lewis’ apologetics.
The Creedal Imperative – Carl Trueman (2012); Print // Read for men’s reading group. A somewhat softer Trueman than his other works, it’s directed at those who claim “No creed but the bible!” and other similar objectors to creeds and confessions. Stimulated good discussion on a topic of which I’ve grown somewhat tired.
The Idea of Biblical Theology as a Science and as a Theological Discipline: Inaugural Address – Geerhardus Vos (1894); Ebook // When learning about a new topic, I prefer to heed C.S. Lewis’ advice and go to the source. This was an accessible and helpful introduction to biblical theology (as opposed to systematic theology, for one). One of my biggest takeaways is that biblical theology thankfully isn’t a new topic for me, as I have been taught for years from the pulpit and other books without my knowing it.
The Man Who Was Thursday – G.K. Chesterton (1908); Print // Excellent metaphysical thriller/mystery by a true wordsmith. Creepy, witty, philosophical, and tense throughout and filled with plot twists and surprises.
“The reason for this mixture is that we carry about us a double principle: grace and nature. The end of it is especially to preserve us from those two dangerous rocks which our natures are prone to dash upon: security and pride, and to force us to pitch our rest on justification, not sanctification, which, besides imperfection, has some stains. Our spiritual fire is like our ordinary fire here below, that is, mixed. Fire is most pure in its own element above; so shall all our graces be when we are where we would be, in heaven, which is our proper element.”
-Richard Sibbes in The Bruised Reed (Banner of Truth, 1998/1630), p. 20