Reflection and Growing in Joyful Humility

John Webster once wrote, “Memory is the urgent business of setting before our eyes God’s great act of delivering us from death and giving us a share in his life, (Webster, Meditations of a Theologian, 152).

Christians should be people who have short memories toward those who have wronged us, but long memories toward the depths of our own personal sin. Without remembering the depths of our sin, we will fail to appreciate the heights of God’s grace.

Reflection is a necessary discipline to a healthy Christian life because it reminds us that God has condescended to us in the midst of our sin as a demonstration of His love.

In the Incarnation, Christ comes before humanity in visible form partly to deepen our fellowship with God and with one another. John writes, “[W]hat we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3 NAS).

We know that God takes our sins and casts them as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12), but this should not imply that we should so easily dismiss our sins.

Paul often recounted in his testimony the nature that he possessed before he was transformed by the gospel. Yet he assures us that we who have believed stand under condemnation no longer (Rom 8:1).

Though we are grateful that the Cross of our Lord has removed the curse of sin from us, we should not think that we should fail to reflect upon the sins from which God has saved us.

If we fail to remember the depth of our sin, we will certainly fail to appreciate the height of God’s grace toward us.

There is a difference between those whose reflection upon sin would bring despair and those whose reflection upon sin ends in delight.

For the former, reflection never moves beyond human depravity. Those who reflect upon their sin to the point of despair are caught in a reflection that is anthropocentric. Even though this reflection recognizes human sin for what it is, it fails to recognize God’s grace in Christ.

For the latter, one quickly moves from despair to delight. Delight, not because of our sin, but because of God’s grace. There is a genuine sorrow over sin, but this sorrow leads to rejoicing; rejoicing because–moving beyond sin–it recognizes that God’s grace has overwhelmed man’s sin.

In other words, if we reflect upon sin apart from God’s grace, we are led to despair, forgetting the true hope for our sinful state.

On the other hand, if we are too quick to forget our sinfulness in order to focus upon God’s “forgetfulness,” we will lose the reason that we stand in need of grace at all.

For Christians, it is wise that we return regularly to the depths of our sinfulness through reflection, but we dare not stay there. Through moving from reflection upon sin to reflection upon God’s grace toward us in Jesus Christ, we will grow in holiness as God’s measure of grace continually overcomes the depths of our sin.

The result will be a more humble yet joyful Christianity. Who of us would not welcome that?

“A Spontaneous Lament”

The following is taken from Kelly M. Kapic, Embodied Hope: A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering, (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017), 34-35. It is a spontaneous lament written by a friend of Kapic’s reflecting on the various struggles of life. It is a fictitious conversation with God regarding suffering.


Why did my daughter’s husband break her heart?
I know, little child
Won’t you tell me Father?
I won’t, my son

Why does my wife have to live in pain?
I know, little child
Won’t you tell me, Father? It would be easier
It wouldn’t, my son

Who do parents bury their children? It isn’t right
It isn’t, little child
Then get rid of death, Father
I am, my son

Why are people abused, persecuted and killed? Can’t you protect them?
I can, little child
Then do something
I did, my son

Why do my parents need to finish their lives in unrelenting misery? How is that merciful?
It is, little child
Then I don’t understand mercy
You don’t, my son

But it all hurts so much sometimes
I know it does, little child
How do you know Father?
I have felt all the pain of sin, my son

Can’t you make it all stop?
I can, little child
Then do it, Father
I started 2000 years ago and will finish soon, by son

I believe you, Father, help my unbelief
I love you, my son.

Though I am less than one-third of the way into the work, I am delighted with it to this point. I would particularly recommend this work to pastors who are looking for a way to minister faithfully to church members who are suffering.

Thus far, Kapic has taken into account the theological and pastoral dimensions of leading people through suffering in a compelling way. In short, Kapic has not tried to explain God in an abstract, aloof way, but has tried to provide an existential comfort during one’s moment of need by pointing to God’s identification with those who suffer and His eschatological hope through Jesus Christ.

When Angels Laugh

One of the joys of researching the life of a famed theologian is that, after spending much time interacting with their work, you begin to notice characteristics of their personality. Those close associates and students who have written about the life and work of Karl Barth have indicated that one of the greatest characteristics of Barth was his self-deprecating humility. This personality trait often led to Barth expressing himself through humor. However, we should not see humor as purposeless. Barth’s humor was used to convey deep theological truths, even while providing a chuckle for his readers. For example, Barth, writing of his own legacy, delineates: 

The angels laugh at old Karl. They laugh at him because he tries to grasp the truth about God in a book of Dogmatics. They laugh at the fact that volume follows volume and each is thicker than the previous one. As they laugh, they say to one another, “Look! Here he comes now with his little pushcart full of volumes of the Dogmatics!” — and they laugh about the men who write so much about Karl Barth instead of writing about the things he is trying to write about. Truly, the Angels laugh. (Karl Barth, How I Changed My Mind, 14). 

We may not (and should not) fully embrace Karl Barth’s theology. But may we learn to have a little self-deprecating humor as we seek to speak of the One who is higher than us. 

Monday Morning Reflections: Blessed are the Mourners

Currently I am preaching through the Sermon on the Mount in a series I have titled “Authentic: Living the Genuine Christian Life in a Disingenuous World.” I have preached through the Sermon on the Mount before, but this times seems different. Perhaps it is the rapidly changing world stage or the more subtle undercurrent of a yet-to-be fully realized societal change. Either way, every discerning Christian must admit that there is a transformation within the immediate environment that is going to test our strength (or weakness, as it may be).

Yesterday, in the third message of the series, we examined the second beatitude, “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” After explaining how mourning is an experience that is directly correlated to the character of God, I sought to explain how Christian mourning is inherently different from non-Christian mourning. To put it simply, non-Christian mourning leads to despair while Christian mourning leads to action. I then proceeded to explain that Christian mourning manifests itself through four proper responses.

First, the Christian responds to mourning through intercession. This is the result of mourning over a fallen world that has normalized abortion, pornography, homosexuality, and addiction. The Christian who mourns does not let the attempted justification for these atrocities to lead them to despair; rather, they are driven to intercede through prayer and witness.

Second, the Christian responds to mourning through leadership. One of the realities that can prompt mourning in the heart of a dedicated Christian is the lack of seriousness that many professing Christians seem to invest in pursuing what they claim is the Ultimate Reality, namely, the Lord Christ. When exposed to a disingenuous church culture, the Christian may be tempted to despair over the state of many of the churches. However, true Christian mourning does not respond with despair — lest it contribute to the problem it laments.

Rather, Christians who mourn over the state of churches and Christians today are compelled to a demonstration of true Christian leadership. The devoted follower of Christ hears the continual echo of the voice of Joshua: “Choose for yourselves this day whom you shall serve. As for me and my house, we shall serve the LORD.” The Christian who mourns fears being in Laodicea more than he fears being on Patmos.

Third, the Christian who experiences true, biblical mourning responds through confession. The earnest believer recognizes that he is not the solution, but he is part of the problem. He wrestles with personal sin that inhibits his ability to serve to God in a meaningful way apart from the fullness of God’s grace toward him. In other words, every witness is a hypocrite. The Christian who dares to do anything in the name of Christ cannot escape the eerie compulsion of the Holy Spirit leading him to confess, “I am the chief of sinners” (1 Tim 1:15). Indeed, he finds himself far more in need of Psalm 51 than he readily admits. Therefore, rather than puff himself up with self-righteousness, he confesses his inadequacies.

Finally, the Christian who mourns does so because he recognizes that there is a separation from God that manifests itself through an internal longing for the restoration of all things. Though he finds joy through watching children grow, a marriage develop, or a career blossom, there is an overriding reality that beckons him to remember that this world is not his home. He suffers from a perpetual plague of being homesick.

In a sense, the Christian who understands the second beatitude can be spotted as the one who has a simultaneous tear in his eye and smile on his face. In Christian mourning, sorrow and joy collide. He is sorrowful because he is not immune from tragedy. He is joyful because he knows the fullness of comfort is yet to come. So, let us mourn with hope. Our Comfort will come.

Chrysostom on Pulpit Presence

John confronting the empress Aelia Eudoxia for her lavish lifestyle.
John confronting the empress Aelia Eudoxia for her lavish lifestyle.

“A preacher then should have loftiness of mind, far exceeding my own littleness of spirit, that he may correct this disorderly and unprofitable pleasure on the part of the multitude, and be able to lead them over to a more useful way of hearing, that his people may follow and yield to him, and the he may not be led away by their own humors, and this it is not possible to arrive at, except by two means: indifference to their praise, and the power of preaching well.”

John Chrysostom, On the Priesthood V.1.

For whom did Christ die?

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????**This post was written for the church I currently pastor. As such, it is intentionally pastoral. I have sought to avoid overly technical language and am speaking within the framework of a particular conversation.**


The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.  2 Peter 3:9

The ebb and flow of church life coupled with the natural imbalance that accompanies human nature often leads well-meaning believers in Jesus Christ to emphasize various doctrines and neglect others.

In the past decade, the controversy that often swirled within church walls had to do with end times. Church hallways echoed the sounds of people reading from their Scofield reference Bible about the hidden meaning of the rider upon the red horse while others shared coffee in the living room and tried to determine which of the broken seals the news headlines of the day pointed toward.

In other areas the church was captured by political eccentricities that were of no value to the spreading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Both conversations can be entertaining, but when they lead to human speculation rather than Godly revelation (what people think rather than what God has said) they are quite unfruitful.

Today is no different than those days in that humanity is no different. Though our areas of imbalance may shift from one generation to the next, we are always in need of correcting this lack of balance in our understanding.

When I first entered the pastorate nearly 15 years ago, there was rarely a week that went by that a person did not have some biblical question about a vague reference to an end time event that defied the understanding of many conversations over numerous cups of coffee.

I discovered rather quickly that, though the end times discussion may interest a lot of people, they have rarely been helpful to the work of the Gospel. Not because the end times are unimportant, (for their presence in Scripture indicates that they are important) but because humanities tendency to become imbalanced creates motives for discussion that are damaging to the ministry.

Today, the question has shifted from “What does the blowing of the third trumpet symbolize” to “Did Christ only die for a few, or did He die for everyone?” This debate has been present within the lives of believers for almost 2,000 years. Good men have fought unwise battles with impure motives for all of human history, to our shame.

Though the debate is often confusing, I will offer my simplified explanation and personal conclusion in a brief manner, supported by four reasons.

First, the Bible tells us that Man was created in the “image of God” (Genesis 1:16-30). To be created in the image of God is, in and of itself, a difficult doctrine to understand. But at a minimum, it teaches

  1. That mankind is relational. Mankind is created with a need for relationship, for the essence of God is triune, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit living in eternal love for one another. Therefore, to be human means to be relational.
  2. That mankind is responsible. Man has been granted extensive responsibilities for the manner in which he conducts his life within Creation. In the Creation account of Genesis 1:26-30, God has deposited within mankind “dominion” by which he is to populate the earth, steward the earth, and carry limited dominion over the earth. That means that to be an image bearer of God brings with it the ability to be responsible for the decisions that are made.

Sometimes it is argued that God has decreed everything. He has irresistibly determined who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell. Therefore, each person bears no responsibility for His own destination. However, among other things, this totally ignores the responsibility every person has been given for how they respond to the gracious offer of God in Christ.

The second reason I draw the conclusion I do is because it is the clearest meaning of Scripture. There are admittedly numerous Bible passages that are utilized to support one’s position, but the Scripture quoted above is irrefutably clear. “God is willing for none to perish.”

Often, a person who would disagree with my conclusion would say that God has two wills. That is, He has a revealed will that He has given in Scripture, and then He has a secret will that He has not shown us. Therefore, some would conclude, God’s revealed will is for all people to be saved, but His secret will is for some to be condemned.

Let me simply say that if God has two wills, then none of us can have any confidence whatsoever in what God has said, for we would never know when His revealed will might be contradicted by His secret will.

The third reason I come to the conclusion that I do is because of the nature of God. The nature of God is love. Though God will judge those who are sinners, His love precedes His wrath. The Bible says that “God IS love” (1 John 4:8), but it never says that “God IS wrath.” Indeed, God’s love is eternal — it existed before Creation. His wrath was not necessary until sin entered the world. So, let us not be confused. The wrath of God is real, but only after the love of God is given.

The fourth reason I come to this conclusion is because the person who says that God decreed some people would be irresistibly saved and some would be irresistibly damned means that God decreed (or caused) the sin of mankind so that His nature of love would allow His action of condemnation. However, this is in direct contradiction to James 1:13 that says

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He himself does not tempt anyone. 

It also contradicts 1 John 2:16 which says

For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 

It is clear that sin is not a product of the Father.

So, to sum all of this up:

  1. The image of God is borne by every person, and therefore that person has a relational need for God and the capability to exercise a choice when presented with the Gospel.
  2. The will of God is contained within Scripture and we need not fear some hidden will of God that contradicts what He has revealed to us.
  3. The love of God is prior to the wrath of God for all of humanity, therefore, one is condemned not by God’s decree, but by ignoring God’s patient extension of love.
  4. The holiness of God means that God did not decree evil, but rather has moved to defeat evil in the Cross of Christ.

How should you and I respond?

  1. Worship: you are a sinner who God has loved in spite of your sin.
  2. Witness: the Gospel is for every person.

So for whom did Christ die? Me. You. Them. Everyone.

A brief review of “Living and Active” by Telford Work (ch. 1)

Product DetailsTelford Work’s Living and Active: Scripture in the Economy of Salvation  is a constructive, systematic work of immense breadth that is rarely seen today. Work has sought to construct a theology of Scripture founded upon the Trinity in an effort to avoid the personalism of liberal bibliology and the vapidity of a perceived static Fundamentalism. Central to Work’s argument, a theology of Scripture must fully incorporate a proper doctrine of the Holy Spirit while not ignoring God’s choice of human agency, and thereby show the role of Scripture as God’s means of salvation. This is a noble task, indeed.

In chapter one, Work interacts with four theologians of import regarding a proper doctrine of Scripture. First, Athanasius’ On the Incarnation is examined for its utilization of the logos as key to the interplay of divine and human agencies for the inspiration of Scripture. Just as hypostases of Christ perfectly intermingled divine and human, so does the hypostases of Scripture present an inseparable interaction of divine and human. As such, Athanasius has presented a pre-chalcedonian Analogy of Being. In Work’s reading of Athanasius, “The relationship between logos and Scripture remains ambiguous as On the Incarnation closes, but it is strong enough to confer on the biblical Word an epistemological power second only to that of the incarnate Word himself,” (44).

This leads Work to reject Athanasius’ project as profitable for a trinitarian doctrine of inspiration for the following reasons:

  1. Athanasius’ intent was not to develop a doctrine of inspiration, but a doctrine of soteriology and Christology.
  2. The matters of ecclesiology are not foremost in Athanasius’ development, and therefore utilizing his model leaves no room to develop a view of inspiration that edifies the Church.
  3. Athanasius’ view of Creation after the Fall, and Christ’s focus on the Church to the neglect of the Creation, almost leaves the world irredeemable, as if to expect another creation ex nihilo. 
  4. Athanasius’ eschatology is overrealized, that it leaves postmillenialism as the only viable alternative.

Next, Work turns to Augustine’s De Doctrina to examine its usefulness to bibliology. Augustine’s work differs from Athanasius’ in that, where Athanasius is primarily interested in Christology, Augustine is focused on epistemology. In Book 1 Augustine focuses on the theological concepts of a God who has revealed himself. In Book 2, he seeks to demonstrate how the Christian minister can best communicate the “signs” of Scripture. Work uses this concept to show how Augustine could be useful for a doctrine of inspiration by stating, “The intrinsic connection between the divine ethos and the biblical logos means two things for Trinitarian bibliology. First, it means that God is literally invested in the words of Scripture. Second, it means that in speaking, God puts himself at risk” (61). Work contends that, from Augustine, we learn that just as Christ was able to become incarnate without his ontology undergoing change, so does the Word of God not suffer change in the process of inscripturation. God has bound “his character to human words — dwelling in them, in effect, even in the face of human ignorance, misinterpretation, and manipulation. The kenotic character character of Scripture is a function of the Analogy of the Word,” (66).

Third, following Athanasius and Augustine, Work examines Barth’s trinitarian development of the threefold Word. Barth, famous for his rejection of the analogia entis would also reject any vestigia trinitatis within the world, except for in his understanding of the second form of the Word, Scripture. Barth demonstrates his trinitarian view, most notably in the layout of I.2 in his Church Dogmatics. Here, he deals with the second form of the Word, the written, under the topics of the triune name — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — assigning to each one a particular role in the inspiration of the Bible.  Just as the Son is the sign of the Father, so is the Bible the sign of divine revelation. Such a view leads one to an inescapable modalism, at least in function if not ontology.

Finally, Work treats Balthasar’s “quasi-sacramental” view as a possible method for developing trinitarian bibliology.  Where Barth’s development is primarily christological, Balthasar leans toward a pneumatological development of inspiration. However, Balthasar’s “witness to the Spirit” is akin to Barth’s own “witness to the Word” in the ontological understanding of Scripture. It is in this pneumatological Christology that Work finds what he deems to be a proper Analogy of the Word, or more particularly, it is in Mariology that Work finds his embraced Bibliology. Namely, that just as the Spirit was responsible for placing the Christ within the womb of Mary, so is the Spirit responsible for placing revelation in the words of Scripture. Work concludes that Balthasar offers the best understanding of the relationship of the human and divine to inspiration stating,

But when combined properly, mirroring the Son’s and Spirit’s relationships in the biblical narrative of Jesus’ life, Word-Christology and Spirit-Christology keep bibliology in orthodox Trinitarian perspective. The two approaches hold together both Jesus’ uniqueness and his universality as God with us. By analogy, they hold together Jesus’ uniqueness in revealing God in the created order, and the commonality between charismatic speech and the charismatic speech of Israel’s lawgivers, prophets, apostles, and grafted-in Gentiles. Together they simultaneously draw and blur the lines between the incarnate Creator and the creatures whom he adopts as brothers and sisters, and allows to act in his name. They portray a Christocentricity that elevates the biblical Word even as it firmly subordinates it to Father, Son, and Spirit, by locating its power in the power of the Triune God. They demand close attention to the actual course of Scripture in human history, while never forgetting that human history is salvation-history moving towards the realization of God’s will.

Though Work has made a noble attempt to properly exalt the inscripturated Word, his project does not escape the inherent tendency to view Scripture as adoptionistic. Mary was chosen as the instrument through whom God would initiate the work of the Incarnation through the placement of the Son into her womb by the work of the Spirit. Likewise, the words of Scripture become the chosen vessel into which God chose to inject the logos by the means of the Spirit. If Work is correct, then the words of Scripture are simply God’s adoption of men’s words as they flowed from human pens, rather than being God’s words to mankind. Thus, God’s revelation is nothing more than God using what man created. Rather, Peter seems to understand that the words belonged to God before they belonged to Man as they “spoke from God.”

Though Work’s thesis is intriguing, if not imaginative, it must be rejected on the grounds that it necessarily makes the actual words of Scripture original to Man and endorsed by God rather than being original to God and embraced by Man.