Why You Should Dream Big for the Glory of God

Psalm 37:23–24,

The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way; 24though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand.

Psalm 37 explains life in this world. The righteous — those who have the law of God in their heart and take refuge in him — will inherit the whole earth (Psalm 37:31, 40; cf. Psalm 1–2), though it doesn’t look that way right now.

Right now evil runs rampant. Evil gnashes its teeth against God’s own. Evil seems to be winning the day. But it’s only for a little while longer. Soon the wicked will be no more (Psalm 37:10). The end-time judgment of God against all who oppose him is coming. Jesus, the Lord’s King, our Savior and hope, will return to judge the living and the dead. He will be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel, and being marveled at by those who believe (2 Thessalonians 1:7–10).

Psalm 37 tells us how to live unto that day. And in particular, Psalm 37:23–24 encourages godly ambition unto that day.

Basically, you and me should dream big for the glory of God. I’ll try to explain in three simple (overly-simple) points. The syllogism goes like this:

If you are in Christ you are called to God’s purpose and God’s purpose will not fail; therefore all our dreams toward that purpose will not ultimately fail.

If you are in Christ you are called to God’s purpose

When we are saved from our sins and given the new identity “in Christ” we are welcomed into fellowship with God. We are brought to his person, and into his purpose. He calls us into this and orders our steps. In fact, we don’t even live anymore, Christ lives in us (Galatians 2:20). Our entire universe is wrapped up into him. Our dreams are surrendered to the goal of his glory covering the earth as the waters cover the seas (Habakkuk 2:14).

God’s purpose will not fail

His purpose, by the way, will succeed. The earth will indeed be covered with his glory as the waters do the seas. The gospel of Jesus will advance to every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Revelation 5:9–10). All of God’s elect will believe and then the end will come. It’s been this way since the beginning. God’s purposes are not hindered. He does what he pleases, in heaven and on earth and in the seas and all deeps (Psalm 135:6). He is that kind of sovereign. And he is that kind of righteous. He fulfills what he promises because he has put his name to it. And it is only right that God has an “unswerving commitment to uphold the glory of his name.”

therefore all our dreams toward that purpose will not ultimately fail.

So if we are in Christ called to God’s purpose, and God’s purpose will not fail, then our efforts in his purpose will not ultimately fail. This doesn’t mean our every effort will automatically turn into gold. We can still make mistakes and inevitability we will. We will stumble and fall (Psalm 37:24a). But if our efforts are aimed at his purpose, if they are aimed at his glory advancing to all the earth, it is certain to succeed. We will not be cast headlong. There is no condemnation for those in Christ (Romans 8:1) and there is no ultimate failure for the work of his people (Matthew 16:18). For the Lord upholds our hand.

So should be our lives in this world unto that day.


The Textual-Theological Approach of John Piper to the Biblical Text

For those interested in Bible interpretation, and in particular the work of John Piper, I presented a paper on the topic at the 2010 ETS meeting where one of my goals was to pin down Piper’s approach to the biblical text and present it as a commendable method. In light of the recent posts and attention to method, here is an excerpt from that paper where I try to label how Piper reads the Bible (and from which his preaching and writing ministry flows).


Textual-theological[1] is a helpful title for John Piper’s approach to the biblical text for two main reasons: 1) his approach is textual in that the text itself carries the prominent role in the exegetical task as opposed to an imported conceptual framework; and 2) his approach is theological in that the interpretation of the text is achieved by theological reflection upon the exegesis of the text within the scope of the canon. This approach is most vividly seen in the justification debate, or more specifically, how he defines the “righteousness of God” in Paul.

It Is Textual

One does not have to look far in Piper’s Future of Justification to see his concern about the biblical-theological approach of Wright. He writes about the danger of the “biblical-theological” paradigm when it works to “silence the particularity of a text’s meaning.” Piper writes:

It is not just ‘dogmatic categories’ that function this way. So do ruling paradigms in ‘biblical theology.’ What is happening in Romans 3:24-26 is that ‘the righteousness of God,” understood broadly from the Old Testament and Jewish literature as God’s ‘salvific activity,’ is exerting more influence than that particularities of the text.[2]

Piper insists that the text itself must have the most prominent role in the way it is read. The authority of the biblical text and the notion that interpreters not impose their dogmatic categories is of general consensus by evangelical interpreters. Piper goes on to stress that biblical-theological categories can have the same ill-imposed impressions as systematic and historical categories. He writes, “Neither systematic nor biblical theology must distort exegesis. But both can.”[3]

We can learn about Piper’s approach to the biblical text by noting his concern for Wright’s approach. He writes, “One of the impressions one gets in reading N. T. Wright is that large conceptual frameworks are brought to the text of the New Testament from outside and are providing a lens through which the meaning is seen.”[4] Piper is concerned with this biblical-theological paradigm when he writes that “it bears all the marks of a widespread scholarly paradigm that exerts a controlling effect on the exegesis of texts that do not clearly support it.”[5]

In a similar way, David Kelsey critiques what he calls “biblical concept theology” in his publication The Uses of Scripture in Recent Theology (1975).[6] Among the problems that Kelsey points out is that such an approach leaves the Bible to be “tacitly treated as a system of technical concepts.” He explains,

In ordinary discourse, surely a word does not have one structure of systematically interrelated senses that goes with the word in every context of use. Rather, the meaning of a word used in ordinary talk is learned by attending to the way it is used in some particular context.[7]

Accessing an outside lens in order to see through a “window of a worldview other than our own” requires the work of historical investigation that can easily become a subtle undercurrent pulling the interpreter away of the biblical text itself.[8] This kind of work, as David Yeago writes, “is propaedeutic to the real theological-exegetical task.”[9] Moreover, dependence upon this outside work for exegesis is cumbersome and distracting for the reader to hear the word of the Lord.

Now we must go beyond considering Piper’s approach by negation and see it on display within the justification debate, most clearly in how he defines the “righteousness of God.” In the effort to be truest to the Apostle Paul and the canonical testimony, Piper considers the crucial question to be what inclines God to act in faithfulness to his covenant promises. Piper goes deeper and broader than the text in asking this question, yet such probing is not mere speculative theologizing. He roots the questioning in the exegesis of the text. He writes:

Paul’s use of the righteousness language in Romans begs for this question to be asked. The dikai-word group is used over seventy times in Romans. Paul’s profound argument in answer to the question “Is there injustice [adikia] on God’s part?” (Rom 9:14) pushes us deeper into God beneath and before the covenant. And the development of his argument in Romans 1-3 regarding man’s “unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18) apart from the covenant presses us behind the covenant for the ultimate meaning of righteousness as Paul conceived of it.[10]

In Justification of God (1983) Piper gives a thorough explanation of important texts in Romans to understand what Paul means by “righteousness of God.”[11] By looking closely at Romans 3:1-8, Piper concludes:

. . . for Paul God’s righteousness is neither a strict distributive justice nor a merely saving activity. It is more fundamental to God’s nature than either of these and thus embraces mercy and judgment. It is God’s inclination always to act so that everything abounds to his glory.[12]

 The inclination in God to act according to his glory is integral to Piper’s understanding of what Paul means. The righteousness of God is “his unswerving commitment to preserve and display the glory of his name.”[13] Wright accuses Piper of an idiosyncratic definition that ignores the “huge mass of scholarly literature.”[14] He writes, “Piper’s attempt to show that there must be a ‘righteousness’ behind God’s ‘covenant faithfulness’ is simply unconvincing.”[15] Yet, Piper’s conclusion of the meaning of “righteousness” comes through the careful, transparent work of exegesis that is attentive to the context of the canon. Conceptual paradigms are not totally disregarded, but the most pertinent evidence for meaning is found within and governed by the text itself.[16]

It Is Theological . . .

Piper’s commitment to the text leverages the theological element of his approach. The text is given the most prominent attention and his theological reflection is a pressing deeper into the determinant, exegetically rendered meaning of the text. Piper is not content to walk away from the text with a superficial meaning. He is leery of the “biblical concept theology”[17] approach for doing just that. Piper is concerned that Wright’s definition of the righteousness of God does not go deep enough. He writes,

… Wright’s definition of the righteousness of God does not go to the heart of the matter, but stays at the level of what divine righteousness does rather than what it is. He defines God’s righteousness by saying that it keeps covenant, judges impartially, deals properly with sin, and advocates for the helpless. None of those is what righteousness is, but they are some of the things righteousness does. This limited way of treating God’s righteousness distorts Wright’s reading of Paul.[18]

Piper believes that exegesis pushes the interpreter “deeper into God beneath and before the covenant.”[19] A simple definition of righteousness is inadequate. He explains, “It is not very satisfying simply to say that God’s righteousness is his commitment to do what is right, because it leaves the term “right” undefined.”[20] Now, it is specifically at this point that Piper presses deeper with the theological element of his approach. To define what is “right,” he explains:

The answer is that there is no book of law or rules that God consults to know what is right. He wrote the book. What we find therefore in the Old Testament and in Paul is that God defines ‘right’ in terms of himself. There is no other standard to consult than his own infinitely worthy being. Thus, what is right, most ultimately, is what upholds the value and honor of God—what esteems and honors God’s glory… There is something far deeper in God than covenant faithfulness.[21]

The pitch has been delivered and Piper’s way of throwing exposes his distinction from Wright. Piper’s theological reflection is rooted in his exegesis and forces interpretive accountability to the aim of the text. Piper’s approach attends to “what the text actually says” and ends at the truth that is being rendered by God and about God in that text.[22]

Vanhoozer’s Help and How Piper’s Approach Fits

In his book, “Introducing Theological Interpretation of Scripture,” Daniel Treier mentions Kevin Vanhoozer in a short survey of authors who contributed to the beginnings of theological interpretation in the 1990s.[23] Vanhoozer describes what the theological interpretation of Scripture (TIS) is and is not in his essay, “What is the Theological Interpretation of the Bible?”[24] He gives three characteristics for what is TIS and as the second characteristic he writes, “The theological interpretation of the Bible is characterized by a governing interest in God, the word and works of God, and by a governing intention to engage what we might call ‘theological criticism’”.[25]

Considering Vanhoozer’s explanation of TIS, I think Piper’s textual-theological approach best corresponds to this characteristic of theological criticism. In particular, Piper’s approach corresponds to two aspects of theological criticism related to the use of critical tools and to the ultimate theological goal of reading.

The Use of Critical Tools

Vanhoozer writes:

One should not abandon scholarly tools and approaches in order to interpret the Bible theologically. One the contrary, modern and postmodern tools and methods may be usefully employed in theological interpretation to the extent that they are oriented to illuming the text rather than something that lay “behind” it (e.g., what actually happened) or “before” it (e.g., the ideological concerns of an interpretative community).[26]

Piper and Wright both use grammatical-historical tools and methods, however Piper’s textual-theological approach holds the critical tools to “have a ministerial, not magisterial, function in biblical interpretation.”[27] While these tools help Piper trace Paul’s argument in Romans, their role is terminated on the text and its meaning. Piper’s use of critical tools is submitted to the text whereas Wright’s tools carry an imposing weight that constrains the text within an imported concept.[28]

The Ultimate Goal of Reading

Vanhoozer explains that theological criticism is primarily concerned with the ultimate aim in reading. He writes, “A properly theological criticism will therefore seek to do justice to the priority of the living and active triune God.”[29] The theological goal of reading the biblical text does not replace concern for determinant meaning and the original audience; instead it seeks to recover the confessional interest of the original community. Vanhoozer continues, “On this view, biblical interpretation takes the form of a confession or acknowledgement of the work and word of God in an through Scripture.”[30]

This flavor of theological criticism is apparent in Piper’s theological insistence to press beyond covenant faithfulness to understand the righteousness of God. Piper writes that the crucial question in defining the righteousness of God is to ask what it is in God that inclines him to act in love and faithfulness and goodness. Piper asks questions about the text with an aim towards uncovering a confessional theology echoed throughout the canon. It is theological criticism that leads Piper to be concerned about the deepest allegiance of God, which is not the covenant but God’s unwavering faithfulness to uphold the glory of his name.


Much more could, and should, be said. The implications of Piper’s alignment with Vanhoozer’s explanation of TIS and more specifically theological criticism are yet to be explored. One important implication of these approaches to the biblical text is the impact they have upon the Church’s reading. I think that Piper’s approach prevails by the prominence it gives to the text. The accessibility of his textual-theological approach seems to do better in drawing the people of God into communicative action for the sake of communion.[31] If the Church will be enabled to “hear (understand) and do (perform) the Word in and for the present” then it must be by an approach to the text that is available to strangers of the academic guild.[32]

[1] Perhaps the best description for Piper’s approach would be “textual-canonical theological” as opposed to the “biblical-conceptual theological” approach of Wright. However, to avoid cumbersome nuances, I will stick with “textual-theological” and explain my use.  The term “textual-theological” is used elsewhere.

See Gail R. O’Day and David L. Petersen, eds., Theological Bible Commentary, (Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), viii. It is described: “Rather than being devoted to scholarly reconstructions of biblical texts, or even to theological themes (such as covenant, creation, etc.), or concerned with an alleged theological centre to the canon, the commentary claims to be ‘textual theological relfection, contingent on fully formed biblical books’” (viii).

Greg Allision also uses the phrase “textual-theological” (T-TIS) and defines it: “Foremost in T-TIS is the conviction that ‘appropriate interpretation of Scripture can only be guided by a correcting understanding of what Scripture is, as defined by the doctrine of Scripture.’” Greg R. Allison, “Theological Interpretation of Scripture: An Introduction and Preliminary Evaluation,” SBJT 14.2 (2010): 28-36.

[2] John Piper, Counted Righteous in Christ: Should We Abandon the Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness?, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2002), 74.

[3] John Piper, Future of Justification, 33.

[4] Ibid., 38.

[5] Piper, Counted Righteous in Christ, 70.

[6] Kelsey analyzed a paper by a contemporary scholar and critiqued how he related Old Testament concepts to New Testament concepts. He writes, “Bartsch seems to assume that if one concept, p (say, the New Testament concept “peace”) has a historical relation to concept s (say, the Old Testament concept “shalom”), then p always and everywhere in the Bible includes the full meaning of s.” David Kelsey, The Uses of Scripture in Recent Theology, (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975), 24.

[7] Ibid., 27. Kelsey continues, “Bartsch proceeds as though a concept, biblical or otherwise, were (a) a kind of container that lugs the selfsame meaning-content into every context, and (b) a kind of onion that accumulates layers of meaning from its several contexts of use in the past, interrelates them systematically, and thereafter bears them in all contexts whatsoever, so that all uses of the concept are present when any one is explicitly used” (27).

[9] David Yeago, “The New Testament and the Nicene Dogma: A Contribution to the Recovery of Theological Exegesis,” The Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Classic and Contemporary Readings, ed. Stephen E. Fowl, (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1997), 88.

[10] Piper, The Future of Justification, 63.

[11] John Piper, Justification of God: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans 9:1-23, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983). Romans 3:1-8 and Romans 3:25-26 are passages that are meticulously examined (123-147).

[12] Ibid., 133. To be clear, Wright is not making the mistake of reducing God’s righteousness to punitive judgment or saving activity. He goes deeper than those activities, but still not deep enough. Wright writes, “God’s righteousness is that quality or attribute because of which he saved his people. His ‘act of righteousness’ are thus the acts he performs as outworkings or demonstrations of his covenant faithfulness” (Wright, Justification, 64). But the reader must ask what it is of God’s nature that makes covenant faithfulness a reality.

[13] Piper, Justification of God, 103.

[14] Wright, Justification, 64.

[15] Ibid., 65.

[16] Piper’s attention to concepts is evidenced in the booklet entitled Biblical Exegesis: Discovering the Meaning of Scriptural Texts (Minneapolis: Desiring God, 1999). This booklet is the best resource from Piper that details his hermeneutics. He writes, “God has spoken to us in written, human languages. We cannot grasp the meaning of language unless we understand the language conventions which a Biblical author employed. Therefore, we must make every effort to deal with the Bible grammatically (and historically since an author’s specific use of language is determined by his situation in history)” (14). See also his thorough investigation on the righteousness of God in the Old Testament in Justification of God, pp. 103-122.

[17] “Biblical concept theology” is used synonymously to “biblical-theology.”

[18] John Piper, The Future of Justification, 62.

[19] Ibid., 63.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid., 64-65. Piper goes on to cite Isaiah 48:9-11; 43:25; Ps. 79:9; Ezek. 36 20-23. He writes, “In these contexts, the motivation for God’s saving action is something deeper than covenant faithfulness. It is God’s faithfulness—his unwavering commitment—to act for the value of his glory” (65).

[22] Daniel J. Treier, Introducing Theological Interpretation of Scripture, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 62.

[23] Treier, Introducing Theological Interpretation, 11.

[24] In my opinion, Vanhoozer’s explanation, backed by his other work on Scripture, stands as the most evangelical thread of TIS. See Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Is There Meaning in This Text? The Bible, The Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998); First Theology: God, Scripture & Hermeneutics, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2002); The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical Linguistic Approach to Christian Theology, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2005).

[25] Kevin Vanhoozer, “What is Theological Interpretation of the Bible?,” Theological Interpretation of the New Testament: A Book-by-Book Survey, (eds., Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Craig Bartholomew, and N.T. Wright; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 19.

[26] Vanhoozer, “What is Theological Interpretation of the Bible?,” 20.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Concerning Wright’s understanding of 4QMMT, Piper writes: “This understanding of first-century Judaism is an integral part of Wright’s system. If it were to prove inaccurate, there would need to be a pervasive rethinking of many things because of how many aspects of the system are tied to this one.” (Piper, Future of Justification, 141).

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Drama of Doctrine, 35.

[32] Ibid., 456. Vanhoozer considers this to be the vocation of the pastor/director.

Excerpts from Sinclair Ferguson on Union with Christ

There are some sermons we’re shy to recommend, not because they’re bad, but because they’ve been so helpful we fear we cannot do them justice. And we fear that their deep helpfulness to us can’t be replicated for others. Well, this sermon from Sinclair Ferguson is like that. It is on Paul’s understanding of union with Christ.

My friend, Gary, took a vacation day to transcribe the whole thing, and then he recommended it to me. I hope you find it helpful. Watch the sermon or download the transcript (PDF).

The whole sermon is worth reading. Here’s a handful of outstanding excerpts:

On preaching…

Remember how Paul says it in Ephesians 2, that once Christ had finished his work he came and he preached peace to those who were near and to those who were afar off. This is part of the reason why in giving sermons, when we are 15–20 minutes into the sermon, we have forgotten that the brothers speaking are actually speaking with a different accent from the accent we have ourselves. We are caught up in the fact that Jesus Christ is preaching his word to us himself, through servants to whom he has united himself to by the Holy Spirit, and whom he has made servants of his work. And that’s why we are able to say we don’t preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. How can we dare to say that? It is because in gospel ministry we minster out of the reality of our union with Christ and the way in which it impacts the dynamics of being a servant of the Lord Jesus.

On gospel ministry…

Union with Christ is central to living the Christian life and therefore, by necessity, union with Christ is that driving principle that transforms our gospel ministry.

The grammar of the gospel…

We need to be soaked in all that Christ has done so that it oozes from us. So that preaching Christ is not something we learn as a technique because we understand that it’s the right thing to do, but we speak the grammar of the gospel because by God’s grace — through the word and by the Spirit — that grammar has become instinctive to us. And it oozes from us.

Legalism and antinomianism…

And it is fascinating that in Romans Paul deals with legalism on one hand, and antinomianism on the other hand. The way you and I would deal with it is to say, “Antinomian, let me just give you a little dose of legalism.” Or to the Legalist, “Let me just give you a little dose of Antinomianism.” That’s the way most Legalists and Antinomians try to right themselves. But the way Paul rights the ship is saying, “Don’t you understand how the gospel works for those who are united to Jesus Christ?” So that what the law can never do because it’s weak through the flesh, God does by sending his son, in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, to condemn sin in the flesh.” Christ dies for us in order that the righteous commands of the law might be fulfilled in us who by the Spirit are united to Jesus Christ and walk by the Spirit.

On sharing in Jesus’ sufferings…

You are ordained into sharing in the sufferings of Christ and in the triumph of Christ. You do not have the former without experiencing also the latter, even though that triumph and glory and fruitfulness may be invisible to you, and even invisible during the course of your ministry. And you do not ever have the genuine triumph and fruitfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, in the power of resurrection grace, without being willing to share in the sufferings of Jesus Christ. Because the Jesus Christ we all long to know — how hard it is to dawn upon our distempered souls! — the only Jesus Christ who ever was upon the earth and who now is in heaven is the one who entered into glory through suffering. The one who was crucified in order that he might be fruitful. He became a grain of wheat who fell into the ground and died in order that it might bring forth much fruit.

Closing prayer…

Heavenly Father, thank you that you have not only united us by your Spirit to our Lord Jesus Christ, but in your word, you have began to teach us, as we have studied these things, how marvelous not only our identity as Christians is, but how amazing is the pattern that you have set for us as gospel ministers.

Lord, we are often sore and crushed and perplexed, but we thank you that out of the darkness you bring life, and out of the death you bring resurrection. We know that nothing that refuses to die can ever be raised again from the dead.

And we pray that in this Spirit we may yield more and more to our crucified Savior, and more and more enter into our share in the triumph of his resurrection, so that anything that is lacking in us of our fellowship in the sufferings of Christ may be filled up in order that anything that is lacking in your ordination of our fruitfulness may come to pass in our ministries. And to this we commit one another with thankfulness in Jesus’ name. Amen.

How the Apostle Paul Commends His Ministry

The apostle gives two reasons why he commends his apostolic message to others.

  1. The first reason is in [2 Corinthians 4:5]: “For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’s sake.” That is, he commends himself not as the content of his message or center of attention but only as a messenger through whom Christ is preached.
  2. The second reason he commends his ministry is that through his message God shines new-creational light through Paul to others so that they will see “the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (v. 6). That is, Paul elaborates on [2 Corinthians] 3:16–4:2 by saying that through his message people can perceive “the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (4:4) and be transformed by it.

Greg Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology(Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), 457, formatting added.

Luther’s Counsel to the Sick and Dying

Luther’s Letters of Spiritual Counsel, ed. and trans. Theodore G. Tappert, 1960, (Vancouver, BC: Regent College Publishing, 2003)

The strength of Luther’s counsel is his blending of personal sincerity and Christ-centered encouragement. This ethos of gospel ministry follows the example of the Apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 2:8, “… we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves.” This Apostolic example is seen in the interweaving of Luther’s sincere, personal concern for the sick and his robust articulation of Jesus’ work on the behalf of the sick. I think that this strength gives way to contemporary application.

We learn from Luther, who follows the example of Paul (cf. Phil. 3:17), that a mere theological mind is insufficient in pastoral care. We must share “not only the gospel but also our own selves.” What the sick need more than anything is to be reminded of Jesus’ victory, yet the exposition of that victory should be packaged in the demeanor of a forgiven sinner who is bound in love for his neighbor (Matt. 22:39). And more than our neighbor, we love those in the household of faith (Gal. 6:10), and we love the message of the gospel. Our love for the gospel is translated into a burden for it to be known and believed. It’s content is so precious to us that we sincerely (and personally) commend it to others. We are compelled by these affections to honor both the person and the message they need to hear. We come to the sick and dying in an authenticity that says, “I am your brother. I love you very much and I have good news for you.”

It is hard to assess weaknesses in Luther’s letters per se, or in his counseling approach. In every counseling circumstance there are always more and less of what we could say. The cultural mindset towards sickness and physical suffering has changed since Luther’s day because of the advancement of medicine. Sickness was part of their reality and therefore didn’t require a robust theodicy. Due to his context, I think Luther’s theodicy is underdeveloped. He made mention of life’s fragility: “None of us is, or should be, sure of his life at any time” (30). And he mentions the curse of sin: “This life, cursed by sin, is nothing but a vale of tears” (32). Also, God’s will: “[Luther] acknowledges that the illness, sent upon him by the will of God…” (36). Contemporary counsel would seem to require more of an explanation about God’s goodness and sovereignty in the midst of sickness. The question is simply more prevalent today than it was in Luther’s.

Personal sincerity and Christ-centered encouragement are the major themes of Luther’s counsel to the sick and dying. Contemporary pastors would do well to follow his example as he as followed the Apostle Paul.

Church Leaders, the Gospel, and the American Republic

John Witherspoon on church leaders:

The return which is expected from them to the community is, that by the influence of their religious government, their people may be the more regular citizens, and the more useful members of society. I hope none here will deny, that the manners of the people in general are of the utmost moment to the stability of any civil society. When the body of a people are altogether corrupt in their manners, the government is ripe for dissolution.

Good laws may hold the rotten bark some longer together, but in a little time all laws must give way to the tide of popular opinion, and be laid prostrate under universal practice. Hence it clearly follows, that the teachers and rulers of every religious denomination are bound mutually to each other, and to the whole society, to watch over the manner of their several members [“Thanksgiving Sermon,” in Works, 5:265].

(Excerpted from John Witherspoon and the Founding of the American Republic, [Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame, 2005], 23), paragraphing mine.

Read the whole post, The Gospel’s Influence on the American Republic.

Michael Oh on the Great Scandal of Christian Leadership

Michael Oh writes:

The scary reality is that most of these seemingly blessed and fruitful ministries led by morally compromising leaders will never be brought to light on earth. Many lives are “successfully” lived and many ministries are “successfully” operated apart from a vital relationship with and properly desperate dependence upon Jesus Christ. This is the great scandal of Christian leadership; this is what leaders should fear. The gospel message teaches us that God works and saves and loves and cleanses despite us, not because of us. That is true in salvation “in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). And this dynamic remains true throughout our Christian life. God continues to build his kingdom despite us, despite our sin, and yet through us by the power and grace that is ours through the work of Christ on the cross.

Let us not take such amazing grace for granted, thinking we have a license to remain isolated and unaccountable in sin simply because our ministry seems blessed and fruitful. Let us not put the Lord our God to the test.

Read the entire post at Desiring God, The Danger of “Fruitfulness” Without Purity.

The Humility of Christ and Its Implications: Beyond Polite to Radical, World-changing, God-glorifying Love

Yesterday in BCS chapel I preached from Philippians 2:1-11 and tried to connect the real issue of Christ’s humility in vv. 6-11 to the “have this mind” command v. 5.

The humility of Christ (vv. 6-8), I think, is better understood in light of the exaltation detailed in vv. 9-11. I think that Paul’s recognition of Jesus as the divine identity (Isa. 45:23) sheds light on what it means that Jesus “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Because the issue of vv. 9-11 and Isa. 45 are primarily about identity, I think that “equality with God” is less about divine privileges of how much ‘godness’ Jesus gave up, and more about how he yielded the vindication of his identity to the Father.

In radical, other-worldly humility, Jesus yielded the vindication of his identity on the cross to the Father who raised him from the dead and declared him to be the Son of God in power (Luke 23:35-38; Rom 1:1-4).

I think this exemplary humility of Christ has heavy implications for us:

  1. Our identity in Christ is freedom from all works, yet we make ourselves servants and do all kinds of works—we are free, free, free and we are servants, servants, servants.
  2. This radical humility of Christ really makes us servants in that it goes beyond mere cordiality to one another and calls us to loving, Christ-exalting, world-changing, being-spent-for-the-gospel humility in the world. There is more here than taking out the trash. Yes, in the humility of Christ, we take out the trash. And in the humility of Christ, we are poured out for the good of this world and glory of his name among the nations.