Why John Piper Emphasized Racial Harmony from the Pulpit

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Why did John Piper​ make it a priority to emphasize racial harmony from the pulpit each year?

Watch above (or view here).


Join us at ERLC​ and The Gospel Coalition​ at a special event, “MLK50: Gospel Reflections from the Mountaintop​,” taking place April 4, 2018, in Memphis, Tennessee.

Speakers include Russell Moore, Benjamin Watson, John Piper, Jackie Hill Perry, Matt Chandler, Eric Mason, Don Carson, and many others.

The 50th anniversary of King’s tragic death marks an opportunity for Christians to reflect on the state of racial unity in the church and the culture. It creates the occasion to reflect on where Christians have been and look ahead to where we must go as we pursue justice in the midst of tremendous tension.

Register now: MLK50conference.com.

13 Films that Capture the Themes of Ecclesiastes

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Ecclesiastes is one of the most misunderstood books of the Bible. Its wisdom can be hard to understand and, even when it’s clear, hard to accept. The contemporary tendency to prooftext can be especially problematic with Ecclesiastes. Is life really “vanity”? Is the “house of mourning” really better than the “house of feasting”?

To illustrate Ecclesiastes’s themes with examples from film risks oversimplifying the theology of a complex and profound text. But like all risks, this one comes with potential rewards. Such an exercise can lead to a deeper appreciation of the art, as well as a stronger understanding of the text.

In what follows I cite 13 films intended to illustrate some important themes in Ecclesiastes: Forrest Gump; Searching for Bobby Fischer; Roman Israel, Esq.; The Greatest Showman; La La Land; Before Sunset; No Country for Old Men; In Cold Blood; A Man For All Seasons; Selma; Silence; A Man Escaped; The Man Who Planted Trees. Certainly there could be many, many more.

Limits of Human Wisdom

Since the Enlightenment, faith in the perfectibility and supremacy of the human intellect has been a driving force in secular philosophy. But there are reasonable distinctions to draw between “intelligence” and “wisdom.” The former usually connotes the accumulation of factual knowledge; the latter the right (just/moral) application of that knowledge. This is why it’s evident throughout literature and even Scripture than one can be intelligent and still a fool, or intellectually limited and still wise.

It is evident throughout literature and even Scripture than one can be intelligent and still a fool, or intellectually limited and still wise.

Film, like other art, is filled with examples of holy fools: characters whose moral integrity inoculates and protects them from malicious, intelligent characters. Forrest Gump is a classic example.

What we see in Ecclesiastes is not the intellect’s corruption, but its impotence. When faced with questions like why good or (relatively) innocent men suffer or evil men prosper, factual knowledge is inadequate. It is not that these questions have no intellectual or theological answer; it is that the answers, however intellectually or theologically correct, generally do not satisfy us.

There are two excellent films that show characters who are intelligent but whose confidence in their intelligence blinds them to threats to their success and happiness. In Searching for Bobby Fischer, Josh’s (Max Pomeranc) chess teacher, a genius named Bruce (Ben Kingsley), attempts to mold his protege into a champion. But he is puzzled and angered by the boy’s passivity and lack of a killer instinct:

Bruce: Do you know what it means to have “contempt” for your opponent?

Josh: No.

Bruce: It means to hate them. You have to hate them, Josh. They hate you.

Josh: But I don’t hate them.

Bruce: Well you’d better start.

Josh realizes instinctively that being smart can’t make him happy. In fact, the smarter he is shown to be, the unhappier he becomes. At one point Josh declares that it is perhaps better not to be the best, because then one can lose and it is “okay.” More importantly, a wise player can offer grace to an unworthy opponent, while a player who is only intelligent sees this as foolish.

In the more recent film, Roman J. Israel, Esq., Denzel Washington plays a lawyer who can recite long passages of the criminal justice code from memory. He is unrivaled in his intellect and knowledge of the law, but he too runs into problems that cannot be solved with intelligence alone. In fact, knowing what is right causes him to become increasingly frustrated at a system that frequently fails in practice because too many people are lazy, selfish, or weak. Changing the system is not simply a matter of knowing the right solution; it’s also a matter of forging relationships with others who can participate and promote a work that is too big for any one person, however smart, to tackle.

God-Shaped Hole

Intelligence is not the only thing the author of Ecclesiastes says humans seek in order to make their lives happy and successful. At various points he confesses pursuing wealth, pleasure, and fame, ultimately realizing that each in turn is transient—and thus insufficient to secure eternal happiness. “All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied” (6:7).

Jenny Lind’s song in The Greatest Showman powerfully echoes this realization: Towers of gold are still too little / These hands could hold the world, but it’ll / Never be enough.

One might protest—probably should protest—that the introduction to Lind’s (Rebecca Ferguson) song postulates that what will be enough is not the love of God but that of another human being. Yet if we think about her song in the context of the film, remembering that she is a foil for P. T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman), we should be painfully aware that even receiving human love proves insufficient to satisfy his (or any) soul that instinctively needs ever more.

Some of the most bittersweet films depict hurting characters who pursue good things but, in attaining them, remain unfulfilled. Mia’s (Emma Stone) wistfulness at the end of La La Land is not meant to suggest she chose wrongly and that some alternate path would have led to an unreservedly happy life with Sebastian (Ryan Gosling). Only when we get everything we’ve ever wished for do we start to realize that having it doesn’t fulfill us like we assumed it would.

Some of the most bittersweet films depict hurting characters who pursue good things but, in attaining them, remain unfulfilled.

This lack of fulfilment doesn’t always mean the things we pursue are intrinsically bad. In Before Sunset, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) desperately long for love—a magical connection to another person. Yet even before the first movie (Before Sunrise) of the trilogy finishes we sense what they will ultimately come to know: their romantic attachment cannot fully heal the wounds and needs that drive them to pursue it. Humans who give that love are fallible and finite, and the holes we try to fill with their love require something or Someone that is inexhaustible.

Evil Under the Sun

The author of Ecclesiastes repeatedly points out that what we experience in life (“I have seen” and “under the sun”) appears contrary to what we have been taught, either from God or about him (“I know”). Because so much of Western literature has been shaped by social censors following the tradition that a moral narrative must depict the wicked punished and the virtuous rewarded, biblical texts that acknowledge this pattern doesn’t always hold in our lives feel shocking and problematic. Ecclesiastes 4 speaks of the oppressed having no one to comfort them, of evils so shocking that the author suggests those who have already died are better off than the living.

At the end of the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men, a psychopathic murderer leaves the house of an innocent woman he has killed and is involved in a violent auto accident. As if by some perverse miracle, he climbs from the wreckage, apparently unhurt. In Richard Brooks’s adaptation of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, we witness the execution of a Kansas family by two inept and misinformed criminals looking for a stash of loot that was never there to begin with. In a brief epilogue in Fred Zinnemann’s A Man for All Seasons, we’re told the only character to live a full life and die comfortably in old age is the perjuror, Richard Rich. Surely these events make even the most faithful believer wonder whether life is “vanity” or, as the NIV translates it, “meaningless.”

The Hebrew word customarily rendered as “vanity” in most translations of Ecclesiastes is transliterated “hebel,” and it literally means “breath” or “vapor.” It is also the same root from where the name of Abel is derived, suggesting that the story of Adam’s son—whose life is tragically and senselessly cut short—epitomizes all that Ecclesiastes understands as evil, unfair, or unjust under the sun.

Our lives and our histories are full of examples where injustices prevail and the lives of the virtuous prove as fragile and insubstantial as vapor. We can, perhaps, comfort ourselves by repeating metanarratives that attempt to situate our current present suffering within a broader context of eventual rewards. But we should never deny the existence of horrible injustice as all creation groans. The moral arc of the universe may bend, but if it is long, that means some may not live to see it move toward, much less intersect with, justice. Films like Selma and Silence remind us that while God’s eventual victory is secured, there is no guarantee that any individual, however sanctified, is immune from horrible suffering.

The moral arc of the universe may bend, but if it is long, that means some may not live to see it move toward, much less intersect with, justice.

Immediate Faithfulness

How should we then live?

Fortunately, while Ecclesiastes is brutally honest about the likelihood we will encounter problems that exceed our power to understand, much less solve, it manifestly does not conclude with cynicism or existential despair.

“In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good” (11:6). The appropriate response to a world that overwhelms us intellectually and scandalizes us morally is not despair but incremental, daily, faithfulness. Just as Jesus teaches us to pray for our daily bread, Ecclesiastes admonishes us to get on with our daily work.

The appropriate response to a world that overwhelms us intellectually and scandalizes us morally is not despair but incremental, daily, faithfulness.

That is why, for me, the two greatest Ecclesiastes films are Frédéric Back’s The Man Who Planted Trees and Robert Bresson’s A Man Escaped. The latter famously quotes from John 3:8, telling us that the wind, like the Holy Spirit, blows where it will. In the movie, a French prisoner named Fontaine (François Leterrier) is taken to a Nazi prison. Despite the seemingly impossible obstacles facing him, he takes small steps as they become available. Should he fight, or wait for a guard to pass? He doesn’t know which course will succeed or whether each will do equally well. His life is reduced to the present moment.

In Back’s short, animated masterpiece, a shepherd named Eleazar Bouffier transforms a barren, deserted valley into a fertile home for many happy families. That transformation is achieved gradually over the course of his life—through planting trees, cultivating bees, and largely ignoring the princes and principalities that wage war around him. Like Fontaine, Bouffier doesn’t allow the lack of a complete plan to keep him from taking the first step. At one point, the film’s narrator calls Bouffier and those like him “God’s athletes.” That metaphor suggests acts of immediate faithfulness can be viewed, for believers at least, as what Richard Foster and Dallas Willard call spiritual disciplines.

If reading Ecclesiastes helps us to understand the importance of the spiritual discipline of immediate faithfulness, films that inspire us by illustrating that discipline in practice can edify as well as entertain.

Christian Witness in a Pluralist’s World

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“Any fair reading of the religions as they are has to acknowledge there are fundamental areas of disagreement. They’re not all saying the same thing. It’s not fair to the followers of religions to pretend as if they are saying the same thing.” — Harold Netland

Date: April 7, 2013

Event: The Gospel Coalition 2013 National Conference, Orlando, Florida

You can listen to this episode of The Gospel Coalition podcast here.

Find more audio and video from our most recent event on the conference media page.

Related: 

  • We Need Confident Pluralism (review) by Jordan Ballor
  • How a Man Named Lesslie Changed the Way I Think by Bruce Ashford
  • Alan Jacobs on How to Think (podcast) by Collin Hansen

The Pro-Life Movement Needs More Wilberforces

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The pro-life movement has always been animated by compassion and a zeal for human rights. But if you asked people on the streets whether they associate those two things with the pro-life movement, I wonder how many would agree.

It’s not that the average grassroots pro-lifer has changed—at the March for Life in D.C., in conversations with staunch advocates, or during visits with workers at pregnancy resource centers, I see the same love, passion, and earnest care for the unborn (and, importantly, for their mothers).

But recently, our “pro-life” political representatives around the country have been less than inspiring. Donald Trump has bragged about sexually assaulting women (though he has denied actually assaulting women). Tim Murphy, a “pro-life” congressman, urged his mistress to get an abortion when she said she might be pregnant. Roy Moore, a Republican politician running for U.S. Senate from Alabama, was accused of sexual harassment and molestation of minors by several different women prior to his electoral race (which he lost a month ago).

Many pro-choice advocates, observing this pattern, have claimed the moral high ground in the abortion debate. While our conversations about abortion should consider the humanity and rights of the unborn child, pro-choice advocates have instead turned the conversation entirely to the question of women’s choice and rights—even staging Handmaid’s Tale-inspired protests to reinforce their argument. They point to Trump, Murphy, and Moore, and then tell America, “See? These men have never really cared about the unborn. They care about taking away a woman’s voice and choice.”

I’ve feared that, if these tendencies persist, many Americans—especially swing voters and young people—could turn away from the pro-life cause. But perhaps there is a way we can prevent that.

Learning from Abolitionists

Many pro-lifers have compared themselves to 20th-century abolitionists. To them, both issues hinge on human dignity and the right to life, liberty, and human flourishing. Both have been unpopular and controversial movements, deeply inspired by moral arguments and financial concerns. But to garner inspiration for their cause, there’s perhaps no better example for pro-lifers than William Wilberforce and the English abolitionists of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. One useful volume on this subject is Eric Metaxas’s bestselling biography, Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery.

In England during Wilberforce’s life, slavery was an accepted practice; while many believed it was wrong, most were willing to turn a blind eye to the trade or declare it a “necessary evil” for the commonwealth. Few questioned it with the vehemence or passion of Wilberforce and his compatriots.

How, then, were Wilberforce and the abolitionists able to ban slave trafficking—and eventually, slavery itself—in their lifetimes? What massive concentration of resolve managed to turn a whole empire against slavery? After all, slave traders were wealthy and influential members of society; many members of Parliament had an interest in keeping the trade alive. The industrial complex built on the loathsome practice was large and influential, and its adherents protested Wilberforce’s efforts vehemently.

Wilberforce and his allies didn’t content themselves with advancing a political agenda. They focused on the cultural, social, and ideological mores that allowed slavery to exist in the first place.

It’s important to note that, faced with the passivity or antagonism of the powerful and influential, Wilberforce and his allies didn’t content themselves with advancing a political agenda. They focused on the cultural, social, and ideological mores that allowed slavery to exist in the first place—indeed, the abolitionists turned themselves passionately and primarily to public awareness, cultural causes, and grassroots campaigns.

Before Wilberforce ever petitioned Parliament for the abolition of the slave trade, his compatriots had begun working on the hearts and minds of the British people. They knew this was where the battle must begin.

Changing Hearts and Minds

John Newton

During this time, William Clarkson wrote about slavery as an investigative journalist. He exposed the horrors of the Middle Passage fact by fact, detailing restraint and torture, abuse and cruelty. He documented the mortality rate of both sailors and slaves aboard ships. He recounted the firsthand accounts of slaves, sailors, and captains who witnessed the system’s hideousness. John Newton, slave-ship-captain-turned-Anglican-clergyman and writer of the famous hymn “Amazing Grace,” wrote a pamphlet on the slave trade and his own work “in a business at which my heart now shudders.”

The abolitionists used art and music powerfully—Josiah Wedgewood’s antislavery cameo (“Am I not a man and a brother?”) was turned into brooches and pins. Posters of the horrifically inhumane “storage” system employed aboard slave ships were posted around England. William Cowper and Samuel Taylor Coleridge both wrote antislavery poems for the cause, and Cowper’s was set to music. Famous playwrights like Hannah More joined the abolitionist fight and built up popular support. A boycott of West Indian sugar targeted the slave traders’ coffers.

The work was neither easy nor swift. For 20 years, Wilberforce petitioned Parliament to abolish the slave trade. It took 20 years for that bill to pass, and then another 26 years to abolish slavery as a whole.

All this was happening even as Wilberforce and his allies failed (time and time again) to abolish the slave trade in Parliament. As they worked to turn public and cultural support in their favor, they slowly sought to move the political ball forward—one year, and one bill, at a time. But the work was neither easy nor swift. For 20 years, Wilberforce petitioned Parliament to abolish the slave trade. It took 20 years for that bill to pass, and then another 26 years to abolish slavery as a whole. Nonetheless, those 46 years changed the entire character and moral compass of the nation. The abolitionists’ accomplishment was monumental.

Character and Consistency

There are several personal traits that likely helped Wilberforce and his political allies. First, they were highly virtuous and compassionate people. Wilberforce paired this integrity with a winsome and charismatic manner. In a world that disdained the goody-two-shoes sincerity of dedicated Christians, Wilberforce’s cheer and charisma drew people to his cause and his faith.

To read about the Clapham Sect (the community of Christians and abolitionists to which Wilberforce belonged) is to uncover a committed group of culture transformers: Christians who took the implications of their faith seriously on both a private and public level.

Benjamin Haydon [Public domain]

The Claphamites didn’t just fight for abolition: they championed penal reform, welfare reform, and the humane treatment of animals. They fought child prostitution, child labor, and cruelty in the British Army and Navy. Wilberforce lambasted the British abuse of Indians through the East India Company and sought to raise awareness regarding the practices of female infanticide and suttee (in which widows were bound alive and thrown on their husband’s burning funeral pyres). He fought to outlaw public hangings and animal baiting. By the end of his life, Wilberforce had given his (substantial) fortune away to various philanthropic causes. He died a pauper.

What would happen if the pro-life cause raised up leaders like that?

National Qualms about Abortion

With excellent leaders, the pro-life movement would be able to organize those with concerns about abortion across the political spectrum. Pew Research Center has found that about 3 in 10 Democrats believe abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. A Fox News poll in 2016 put that number at 27 percent. Neither African Americans nor Latinos (both core Democratic constituencies) are unequivocally pro-choice: 35 percent of blacks and 49 percent of Latinos believe “abortion should be mostly illegal.” At least 60 percent of Americans believe abortion should be outlawed after 20 weeks.

These numbers by no means indicate that a majority of Americans want to outlaw abortion entirely. But they do demonstrate that many have qualms regarding the practice. A 2010 Pew Forum poll found that about 50 percent of women believe abortion is morally wrong, while 12 percent “consider it hazy depending on circumstances.”

The pro-life cause has a lot of work to do in the cultural and grassroots realm.

Yet despite these public hesitancies (as well as Republican control of the White House and Congress), Congress was unable to defund Planned Parenthood last year, a step far from outlawing abortion. This defeat suggests that the pro-life movement may not have the leaders it needs; it also suggests that the pro-life cause has a lot of work to do in the cultural and grassroots realm.

The Pro-Life Movement We Need

Changing public opinion means raising awareness. It means pro-lifers need to be good storytellers. LiveAction and the Center for Medical Progress have targeted Planned Parenthood with investigative stories and sought to address many of its illegal or questionable activities. But there are few other organizations regularly telling stories or creating media that pinpoint problems with abortion. When the Kermit Gosnell story broke a few years ago, many in the mainstream media ignored it until whistleblowers forced them to pay attention.

Hannah More, a member of the Clapham Sect, was a poet and playwright.

Pro-lifers also need to be thoughtful artists. Poetry isn’t as popular as it was in Wilberforce’s day; we don’t wear brooches anymore. But musical artists have enormous clout, as do athletes and actors. Nowadays, we have bloggers and Instagram and YouTube stars. Our platform potential is expanding, not shrinking, with time. And the art we have seen on this issue—such as the award-winning film Bella, which came out in 2006—has had a positive effect on the pro-life cause. We just need more of it.

Finally, pro-lifers need to be compassionate advocates. Almost half of the women who procure abortions are living under the federal poverty line—and many cite financial scarcity as their primary reason for getting an abortion. Understanding this strain, and helping address it, should be an integral part of the pro-life cause—not just on a political level, but on a cultural and grassroots level. It should be a natural extension of the pro-life cause, which is determined to fight for the most vulnerable among us. Wilberforce didn’t fight poverty and animal abuse so that his anti-slavery crusade would be “cooler” or more appealing. He was determined to fight oppression, injustice, and suffering in all its forms.

Pro-lifers need to be good storytellers . . . thoughtful artists . . . [and] compassionate advocates.

Many of those who voted for Roy Moore in November’s election told me that voting pro-life, like voting anti-slavery, couldn’t wait. They were determined to move the political battle forward, no matter how weak or problematic the vessel.

But as I considered the country we’re living in, and the culture we’re surrounded by—with its #ShoutYourAbortion campaigns and Planned Parenthood celebrity rallies—I was left with this thought: If we’re going to compare the pro-life movement to the abolitionist cause, we’re going to need leaders like Wilberforce—leaders whose integrity extends beyond shallow posturing into every facet of their lives. We are going to need more than partisan politicians—we’re going to need tender culture warriors and humanitarians, winsome orators and artists. Because pro-lifers won’t be able to win votes unless and until they win over hearts and minds—until they, too, demonstrate themselves to be the conscience of the nation.

Comment: Ahead of regional visit, Mideast Christians’ eyes turn to Pence – Christian News

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US President Donald Trump looks at the Capitol Rotunda as he sits with US Vice President Mike Pence


US President Donald Trump looks at the Capitol Rotunda as he sits with US Vice President Mike Pence during a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony honoring former Senate majority leader Bob Dole on Wednesday..
(photo credit: REUTERS)


All eyes will be on US Vice President Pence’s comments regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process when he visits the Middle East this week, but a no smaller issue is just as essential to bringing peace to the region after all.

Last week, a spokeswoman for Pence said that “At President Trump’s direction, the vice president is traveling to the Middle East to reaffirm our commitment to work with the US’s allies in the region to defeat radicalism that threatens future generations.”

There was no mention of convincing the Palestinians, the Israelis or any other party in the Mideast that some sort of agreement must be made between them, but there was mention of working together to “combat terrorism and assist persecuted religious minorities.”

Many criticisms have been said about the current US administration, but it’s hard to disagree that being a pushover worked for past administrations. “As an example,” Trump tweeted in early January, “we pay the Palestinians hundred of millions of dollars a year and get no appreciation or respect. They don’t even want to negotiate a long overdue peace treaty with Israel.” Or as The Jerusalem Post diplomatic correspondent described it: Trump will not be giving out any more free lunches.

Pence’s visit to the Middle East next week couldn’t have come at a better time. Originally planned for December, Pence had to cancel his Christmas pilgrimage to the Holy Land to oversee crucial legislation pass.

This passage of time gave way for Open Doors USA to publish its annual report last week on the persecution against Christianity across the world.

The results certainly shouldn’t have been surprising for Pence, or for the rest of the world for that matter, but it has lit up the media again with the plight of one of the most shocking phenomena of this century. One in 12 Christians worldwide are persecuted because of their faith, and the leading factor creating this reality is radical Islamic oppression. Every single country in Middle East, with the exception of Lebanon and Israel, are on the list of the 50 countries where it is most dangerous to be a follower. Israel is still the only country there where the Christian population is actually growing.

In Pence’s visit to Egypt and Jordan, which he will visit on the 20th and 21st, respectively, the same tone that President Donald Trump has used with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Pence must enunciate clearly with the representatives he meets there: The only way to find favor with the US is by doing what it asks, such as implementing simple and basic components that every 21st century country needs to have, such as freedom of religion.

Only once the US is able to get firm commitments to rid the radical elements in the Middle East, or at the very least isolate them, then should it start moving in the direction of making larger negotiations.

There can be no way that the US continues to fund and support Arab nations in the Middle East without them pursuing the most basic of human rights. This is not only an element of Islamism that has breached into the region, there is a longstanding tradition of radicalism that has become an essential part of the way the region is ruled. For example, if Trump is willing to make aid to Egypt dependent on the Arab country’s willingness to help negotiate a deal between Israel and the Palestinians, then he should do no less to make certain that a serious effort will begin to improve the way the country treats its individuals.

 

No other administration has shown so much commitment to actually making a change in the way the world works. If Pence and the US really want to make a difference in the Mideast, they have to understand that human rights – and in this case, the rights of persecuted Christians – isn’t a side issue. It is the issue.
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Faith Hope Love

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One of the perennial Christian debates is between scholastics and pietists. Scholastics believe you know God through methodical theological study and careful distinctions. For pietists, you know God through simple Bible reading and basic Christian piety. The pietists annoy the scholastics by their refusal to wade into complex theological problems. The scholastics annoy the pietists by expending huge amounts of energy debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin—who cares?

Ideally, both sides can learn something from the other. We are, after all, called to worship God in truth; therefore debates about divine attributes or the ways God works in the world aren’t abstract and meaningless. They’re essential to understanding God’s character. Similarly, regular reminders to attend to Scripture and simple Christian disciplines are often necessary.

Mark Jones’s new book Faith. Hope. Love.: The Christ-Centered Way to Grow in Grace is the kind of work that should satisfy both groups. Written in a catechetical style and organized around 58 questions, the book addresses both seemingly obscure 17th century Reformed debates and immediately practical questions such as why adultery is such a horrific, soul-damaging sin.

Learned and Practical

For example, Jones addresses the question “Is faith our righteousness?” He begins with a discussion of the 17th century debates sparked by Reformed theologian Jacob Arminius, whose teachings we now know as Arminianism. Here is Jones:

For Arminius, because of the gracious estimation of God, he credits our faith as our righteousness. The righteousness of Christ is not imputed to believers, according to at least the later Arminius. . . . Imperfect faith, then, is accepted by God’s gracious estimation as righteousness. Or, to put it another way, the human act of faith is by grace counted as evangelical righteousness, as if it were the complete fulfillment of the whole law, even though it is not. This genuine human act comes forth from the ability to choose.

What’s the problem with Arminianism? God declares a sinner justified not because of Christ’s imputed righteousness received by faith but because of faith counted as righteousness. The ground of justification is my faith, not Christ’s righteousness.

And why does it matter that the ground of our justification is Christ’s righteousness and not ours? Jones answers later in the chapter:

We can have the greatest confidence, then, that at the final judgment we shall enter glory. Why? Because we really possess Christ’s righteousness. God will not—indeed, cannot—deny what is rightfully ours through Christ Jesus.

To put it another way: God could bar us from heaven only if he were prepared to excommunicate his own Son from heaven. As safe as Christ is in heaven, so are his people. Faith, then, is the gracious gift that enables us to have such confidence in Christ.

What begins as an explanation of a debate which can seem academic and removed from the realities of Christian life is revealed to be an immensely practical assurance of salvation.

Faith. Hope. Love.: The Christ-Centered Way to Grow in Grace

Mark Jones


purchase

Faith. Hope. Love.: The Christ-Centered Way to Grow in Grace

Mark Jones

Crossway (2017). 288 pp. $19.99.

Faith, hope, and love—we hear a lot about each on their own, but how are they related? Why is this triad mentioned so often in the New Testament?

Written in the form of fifty-eight questions and answers, this book reveals how these three theological virtues—also referred to as “three divine sisters”—together serve as the foundation for our whole Christian life. Deeply scriptural, steeped in key theological texts, and modeled after the classic catechisms of church history, this book will instruct our minds, stir our hearts, and motivate us to faith-filled obedience.

In this sense, Jones’s book has the sort of devotional richness and depth associated with the 17th century Puritans that he himself knows so well, having done his dissertation at Leiden on the christology of Thomas Goodwin.

Waiting with Hope

This book also offers hope for troubled times as we transition toward a public square more hostile to Christian faith. Indeed, even the “victories” that American Christians are claiming are only possible because evangelicals have chosen to compromise themselves in major ways. Whether it’s the degraded state of the religious right or the ongoing battle over religious liberty or the tidal wave of support for same-sex marriage and broader acceptance of transgenderism, it’s clear that the American church faces immense challenges on multiple fronts. Christians need hope.

Jones works through the idea of hope carefully, moving from basic questions about its definition, to its general role in the Christian life, then to its role during times of struggle and trial, and finally ending with the question “What duty flows out of Christian hope?” The comprehensive treatment of the virtue, as it relates to phases of life and ethics, is extremely helpful, as are his answers in specific chapters.

As I am writing this, my family is one day away from the second anniversary of my dad’s traumatic brain injury that nearly killed him and dramatically changed my parents lives. During the immediate aftermath of his injury, my mom and I spent Advent waiting for news, waiting to find out if he would even wake up. Throughout that time we clung to the hope that because Christ was resurrected and because my dad was in Christ, he too would be resurrected. There is an interaction between waiting and hoping. If we are to do the former well, then we must cultivate the latter as a virtue. Jones’s book helps us to do that so whatever storm we face, we can hope in Christ.

Quote for Jan. 19th, 2018

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‘He is Greater by Far’ – John 1:30

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About This Devotional

What Jesus Did is a one-year devotional guide through the gospels, using one short passage each day and following the Gospel in consecutive order. Each devotional consists of a passage, reflection and a prayer which opens up the day’s scripture and shows how it challenges you to live for Jesus.

What Jesus Did! is written by Phil Ware.

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Song of Solomon 3:1 – Morning Devotional for Jan. 19th

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Tell me where you lost the company of a Christ, and I will tell you the most likely place to find him. Have you lost Christ in the closet by restraining prayer? Then it is there you must seek and find him. Did you lose Christ by sin? You will find Christ in no other way but by the giving up of the sin, and seeking by the Holy Spirit to mortify the member in which the lust doth dwell. Did you lose Christ by neglecting the Scriptures? You must find Christ in the Scriptures. It is a true proverb, “Look for a thing where you dropped it, it is there.” So look for Christ where you lost him, for he has not gone away. But it is hard work to go back for Christ. Bunyan tells us, the pilgrim found the piece of the road back to the Arbour of Ease, where he lost his roll, the hardest he had ever travelled. Twenty miles onward is easier than to go one mile back for the lost evidence.

Take care, then, when you find your Master, to cling close to him. But how is it you have lost him? One would have thought you would never have parted with such a precious friend, whose presence is so sweet, whose words are so comforting, and whose company is so dear to you! How is it that you did not watch him every moment for fear of losing sight of him? Yet, since you have let him go, what a mercy that you are seeking him, even though you mournfully groan, “O that I knew where I might find him!” Go on seeking, for it is dangerous to be without thy Lord. Without Christ you are like a sheep without its shepherd; like a tree without water at its roots; like a sere leaf in the tempest-not bound to the tree of life. With thine whole heart seek him, and he will be found of thee: only give thyself thoroughly up to the search, and verily, thou shalt yet discover him to thy joy and gladness.

Proverbs 14:7 – Verse for Jan. 19th

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