“The Preacher Who Takes Up Vos’ Biblical Theology…” (Clowney)

Preaching and Biblical Theology Over the past 15+ years I’ve come to a pretty strong conviction that an understanding of redemptive history is of utmost importance in the pulpit ministry.  Preaching that has no understanding of redemptive history is preaching that lacks.  There are nuances to this discussion of course.  I’m not an advocate of hyper redemptive-historical preaching.  And I believe there is a time and place in the pulpit for topical and doctrinal sermons as well as solid application.  Basically, my view is that the pulpit ministry should have a firm and balanced grasp of systematic theology and biblical theology, both of which should be generally evident in the preaching.  I like how Edmund Clowney spoke about this in his very good book, Preaching and Biblical Theology.

“There is…no opposition between biblical theology and systematic or dogmatic theology, though the two are distinct.  Systematic theology must draw from the results of biblical theology, and biblical theology must be aware of the broad perspectives of systematics. …The development of systematics is strictly thematic or topical.  …The development of biblical theology is redemptive-historical.”

Later Clowney mentioned Geerhardus Vos; I’ve always liked these paragraphs:

“The preacher who takes up Vos’ ‘Biblical Theology’ for the first time enters a rich new world, a world which lifts up his heart because he is a preacher.  Biblical theology, truly conceived, is a labor of worship.  Beside Vos’ ‘Biblical Theology’ should be set his little book of sermons, ‘Grace and Glory.’  There we hear a scholar preaching to theological students (the sermons were delivered in Princeton Seminary), but with a burning tenderness and awesome realism that springs from the grace and glory of God’s revelation, the historical actualization of his eternal counsel of redemption.”

Clowney then talked about the text and the pulpit.

“An old Dutch preacher has sagely observed that the pulpit must not drive us to the text, but rather the text must drive us to the pulpit.  In biblical theology that scriptural dynamic impels the preacher’s heart with unimagined strength.”

Edmund Clowney, Preaching and Biblical Theology, p. 18-19.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Fairer Still Is the Maker of Heaven (Augustine)

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 1.8: Saint Augustin: Expositions on the Book of Psalms Many of us are familiar with the biblical truth that God is good, or benevolent, to all.  “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Mt. 5:45 NASB).  “The Lord is good to all, and His mercies are over all His works” (Ps. 145:9 NASB).  In his comments on Psalm 86 Augustine reflected on this truth and used it to remind Christians of the greater gift of God to his people:

Think, brethren, and reflect what good things God giveth unto sinners: and learn hence what He keepeth for His own servants. To sinners who blaspheme Him every day He giveth the sky and the earth, He giveth springs, fruits, health, children, wealth, abundance: all these good things none giveth but God.

He who giveth such things to sinners, what thinkest thou He keeps for His faithful ones? Is this to be believed of Him, that He who giveth such things to the bad, keepeth nothing for the good? Nay verily He doth keep, not earth, but heaven for them. Too common a thing perhaps I say when I say heaven; Himself rather, who made the heaven. Fair is heaven, but fairer is the Maker of heaven

The above quote is found in Augustine of Hippo,  vol. 8, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 412.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Rich Comfort of Justification by Faith Alone (Bavinck)

I’m so thankful to Jesus for his perfect and complete work to save me from my sin and misery.  I’m so thankful that my justification doesn’t depend upon my feelings, emotions, prayers, devotion, or good works.  Although my Christian life is far from perfect, and although I lament my sin and sporadic coldness in the faith, I have good confidence that I stand righteous before God because of what Christ has done in my place.  The biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone (apart from works) in Christ alone (and nothing else) has truly given me a rock on which to stand and comfortably rest.  Herman Bavinck put this truth well around 100 years ago.

“The benefit of justification through faith alone has in it a rich comfort for the Christian.  The forgiveness of his sins, the hope for the future, the certainty concerning eternal salvation, do not depend upon the degree of holiness which he has achieved in life, but are firmly rooted in the grace of God and in the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.  If these benefits had to derive their certainty from the good works of the Christian they would always, even unto death, remain unsure, for even the holiest of men have only a small beginning of perfect obedience.  Accordingly, the believers would be constantly torn between fear and anxiety, they could never stand in the freedom with which Christ has set them free, and, nevertheless being unable to live without certainty, they would have to take recourse to church and priest, to altar and sacrament, to religious rites and practices.  Such is the condition of thousands of Christians both inside and outside of the Roman church.  They do not understand the glory and the comfort of free justification.”

“But the believer whose eye has been opened to the riches of this benefit, sees the matter differently.  He has come to the humble acknowledgement that good works, whether these consist of emotional excitements, of soul experiences, or of external deeds, can never be the foundation but only the fruit of faith.  His salvation is fixed outside of himself in Christ Jesus and His righteousness, and therefore can never again waver.  His house is built upon the rock, and therefore it can stand the vehemence of the rain, the floods, and the wind.”

Herman Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith, p. 466.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Serious Limits for Kids’ Screen Time

I’ve mentioned this book here before: Boys Should be Boys: 7 Secrets to Raising Healthy Sons.  This is not a Christian book, but it does have some decent common grace principles in it, principles I’ve found helpful in raising my own four children  Below are two quotes I’d like to share again and comment on – quotes which have to do with sons, but certainly apply to daughters as well:

“Boys spend far too little time with parents and they suffer because of it. …We have become so absorbed with keeping up with our daily lives that we miss seeing what our boys really need, which is simply more of us: our time and our attention. …Our boys don’t need things, they need us, even just being around….” (p. 13).”

“As a pediatrician I can tell you that disconnecting, or strictly limiting and strictly supervising your son’s access to electronic media is one of the best things you can do for his emotional, mental, and physical health. Boys are suffering from some serious problems from using the wrong electronic media. And it starts not in their teenage years, but long before, when busy parents use the television as a babysitter. …A mother who buys off a toddler’s or a teen’s temper tantrums with television or a video game clearly has a problem on her hands. She needs to learn to deal with her toddler or teenager – and the sooner the better. He will develop wretched habits if he learns it’s that easy to manipulate his mother” (p. 55, 57).

My boys are between 10 and 15 years old, and I can tell you first hand that strictly limiting screen time absolutely does pay off.  We don’t have network or cable TV, our kids don’t have cell phone plans, You Tube and quite a few other websites are blocked in our house, and our kids typically spend less than six hours in front of a screen each week.  Our kids do complain about it quite a bit and tell us how unfair we are, but honestly it’s been great to raise kids that aren’t addicted to a screen.  We are very (!) imperfect parents, but limiting screen time is one of the smarter things we’ve done in our Christian home.

I realize there are tons of helpful articles and books out there that give good advice on limiting screen time; I don’t have a lot to add except to say (again!) that it is very much worth the effort to put a big limit on screen time.  Practically speaking, rather than pay for cable, cell phone plans, and new cell phones or tablets, we’ve used that money over the years to get two kayaks, a puppy, State Park entrance stickers, habitats for critters like frogs and snakes, tickets to a few MLB games, and so on.  Recently we purchased a small fishing boat on which we’ve already spent numerous screen-less hours fishing and cruising up and down lakes and rivers.  In other words, we invest in things that get our kids outside and allow us to spend quality time with them.

A friend just told me a sad story about seeing a family camping on a beautiful weekend.  What were they doing outside their camper?  Getting fishing poles ready, sitting by the campfire laughing, or playing bean bag toss?  Nope.  Both parents and kids were on lawn chairs silently staring at their screens.  Screens do have a place in life, but we as parents have to model and teach self-control, moderation, and we have to view screens as tools that have a right use and a wrong one.  If you’re parents with kids still in the house, it’s not to late to put serious limits on screen time.  If you don’t yet have kids or if your kids are very young, you should think about how you’ll deal with screen time when the time comes.  This is one of those things we pray about, asking God for wisdom and understanding when it comes to screens in the Christian home.  It’s not always easy to put serious limits on screen time, but it will certainly pay off in the long run!

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Impossibility of Preaching Jesus Without A Creed (Vos)

A church without a creed is a church to avoid.  Why?  Because a big part of the Christian’s faith includes knowledge of biblical doctrine, factual truth-statements to which faith clings.  Geerhardus Vos said it quite well:

“Faith presupposes knowledge, because it needs a mental complex, person or thing, to be occupied about.  Therefore, the whole modern idea of preaching Jesus, but preaching Him without a creed, is not only theologically, not merely Scripturally, but psychologically impossible in itself.  In fact knowledge is so interwoven with faith that the question arises, whether it be sufficient to call it a prerequisite, and not rather an ingredient of faith.”

“The very names by means of which Jesus would have to be presented to people are the nuclei of creed and doctrine.  If it were possible to eliminate this, the message would turn to pure magic, but even the magic requires some name-sound and cannot be wholly described as preaching without a creed. …To be sure, mere knowledge is not equivalent to full-orbed faith, it must develop into trust, before it is entitled to that name.”

Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology, p. 389.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

When Your Faith Is So Weak (Watson)

Sometimes a Christian doesn’t feel strong in the Lord.  Sometimes we know we should be serving Christ with more fervency and seriousness, but since we aren’t we feel like bad Christians – or sometimes we don’t even feel like a Christian at all.  What do we do?  Here’s how Thomas Watson answered this question:

“There is a great difference between the weakness of grace and the want [lack] of grace.  A man may have life though he be sick and weak.  Weak grace is not to be despised, but cherished.  Christ will not break the bruised reed.  Do not argue from the weakness of grace to the nullity [non-existence].  1) Weak grace will give us a title to Christ as well as strong grace.  A weak hand of faith will receive the alms of Christ’s merits.  2) Weak faith is capable of growth.  The seed springs up by degrees, first the blade, and then the ear, and then the full corn in the ear.  The faith that is strongest was once in its infancy.  …Be not discouraged at thy weak faith; though it be but blossoming, it will by degrees come to more maturity.  3) The weakest grace shall persevere as well as the strongest.  A child was safe in the ark as Noah.  An infant believer that is but newly laid to the breast of the promise, is as safe in Christ as the most eminent heroic saint.”

Or, to put it in Scripture’s terms, “God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Phil. 1:6 NLT).

The above quote by Thomas Watson is found in The Lord’s Prayer, p. 72-73.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Should We Take the Bible Literally?

The historic Christian faith is a faith that takes the Bible very seriously.  For example, in Reformed theology, we say God’s Word is sufficient, necessary, clear, and authoritative (among other things).  But should we take the Bible literally?  Well, yes and no.  Yes, we take it literally in what it says and teaches; we shouldn’t argue with God’s Word or sit in judgment over it.  But we realize there is figurative language in Scripture.  For example, we don’t believe that God literally has wings (Ps. 91:4).  So we do and we don’t take the Bible literally.

But there’s a better way to say this.  D. Brent Sandy does a nice job in explaining “literalness” as he comments on Isaiah 2:4 (They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. NIV):

“These words could be understood to say that each person who has a sword or a spear will reshape it by pounding it into a plow or pruning hook (good luck!).  That would be a very strict literalness.  Or a reader may conclude that ‘beat’ refers to going to a blacksmith who will use fire to soften the iron before refashioning it.  Having a blacksmith do it would be a little less literal.  Another step away from strict literalness would be for those who have any instrument of aggression to transform it, by whatever means necessary, into an instrument of agriculture.  The statement is still literal, though the specific words of the text are pointing to a meaning beyond the surface meanings of the words.

Or if we take the author to be saying that political peace will be acheived between all nations – or even simply that God will restore order on the earth – the figurative meaning may be predominant, but all literalness has not been lost.  Only when we reach the point of denying that anything will happen as a result of these words have we moved completely away from literal meaning.  At that point to be nonliteral would mean to be nonhistorical (nonactual).  In other words, the literal or figurative interpretation of Scripture is not a simple black-or-white issue.

…Unfortunately, the uses of the word ‘literal’ become confusing, in the minds of both those who make pronouncements and those who hear pronouncements.”

These are helpful comments.  There are large sections of Scripture that contain figurative language: the poetry in the Psalter, the oracles of the prophets, and the visions in Revelation (to name a few).  We shouldn’t take all Scripture as strictly or woodenly literal since it’s not meant to be taken that way.  While we should submit to every part of Scripture, and view all Scripture as God-breathed, inspired, and infallible, we shouldn’t read it all in the same literal manner.  It would be quite a mess if we did!

The above quote is found on pages 3940 of Sandy’s book, Plowshares and Pruning Hooks.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI